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Witness box watchers know that Bill Gates is no stranger to unawareness when it comes to culpability, so will be unsurprised to learn that he was personally unaware of two stock transaction violations perpetrated by Cascade Investments, his investment company, on his behalf. Nor is it unusual for money to be paid on his behalf in order to resolve issues for which he has neither responsibility nor guilt, so the $800,000 tab to the Federal Trade Commission is no shock either.

Cascade sinned for Bill on two occasions, first in November 2001 when a purchase of stock in Republic Services, a company which we are told moves rubbish around, took his holding above 10 per cent. In such circumstances Gates has a requirement to notify the FTC of the transaction. This didn't happen, but the filing was later corrected and the FTC didn't levy any penalty. Six months later Cascade bust the 10 per cent threshold again with shares in pharmaceutical company ICOS, one of whose star products is impotence treatment Cialis. This time the FTC swelled up a tad, and the $800,000 represents a civil payment in settlement of the matter.

Three strikes and you're out? Cascade has taken steps to make sure it never happens again, saying it is implementing new procedures to avoid tis type of oversight in the future. By which we think they mean oversight as in mistake, rather than oversight as in FTC regulatory oversight. ®

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