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The World Trade Organization ruled that $1.4 billion in subsidized European sugar exports are illegal, handing Brazil its second victory in two months in its campaign against Western support for farmers. The WTO asserted that aid to EU sugar producers distorts world prices for the products. The decision reflects a growing pressure on the EU, US, and Japan to scale back subsidies for farmers.

US oil companies Marathon Oil Corp., Amerada Hess Corp., and ChevronTexaco Corp. are the subject of a Securities and Exchange Commission probe into their involvement with the dictator of Equatorial Guinea and his family, The Washington Post reported Wednesday. Possible violations of securities law came to light during a recent Senate inquiry that revealed that Washington's Riggs Bank may have allowed Equatorial Guinea, its largest customer, and dictator Teodoro Obian Nguema to siphon millions of dollars in oil revenue into personal accounts.

Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. placed its biggest order ever, for 26 long-haul planes worth $5.5 billion, with Airbus SAS, based in Toulouse, France, Bloomberg.com reported Thursday. The carrier opted for Airbus's four-engine A340-600s over Boeing's two-engine 777s.

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Ninety-seven percent of roughly 47,000 Bell South Corp. employees voted to authorize a strike if their union, the Communications Workers of America, can't agree on a new contract. There has never been a strike at the Atlanta-based company since it was formed in 1984. The sticking points in negotiations are healthcare costs and job security. The current contract expires at midnight Saturday.

For nearly three years, Google neglected to register more than 23 million shares of its stock with security regulators, an oversight that injects an unexpected legal risk into the company's anticipated IPO. Google may now face lawsuits over illegally issued shares.

General Motors Corp. became the first overseas auto-maker in China to be allowed to issue car loans to consumers, Bloomberg.com reported Thursday. The $60 million venture will pit GM, the world's largest automaker, against Chinese lenders.

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