Italian police combat waves of fraud.
Passed in 1992, law 488 established the mechanisms for allocating direct grants to businesses in less developed areas of Italy and put regional authorities in charge of disbursing funds.
By Giulia Segreti in Rome and Federico Gatti in Catanzaro, Calabria
Published: November 30 2010 18:31
It took two years to prepare but when plainclothes officers from Italy’s finance police launched pre-dawn raids around the country this August they struck relative gold.
Arrested on suspicion of defrauding the European Union of public funds were a group of businessmen. Police seized assets worth €40m, including a site with a swimming pool, wedding reception area, warehouses and hedges trimmed in the shape of Disney characters.
Italy’s finance police have tackled thousands of cases of suspected fraud involving EU structural funds totalling hundreds of millions of euros. Though it concerns a relatively small proportion of the total disbursed, their investigation has uncovered sophisticated networks and sometimes Mafia involvement.
“In this field, consultants and professionals specialise in the submission of fake fund applications and act as real lobbyists of fraud,” says Colonel Fabrizio Martinelli at the headquarters of Italy’s Guardia di Finanza.
In the first 10 months of 2010, Italy’s finance police closed 769 cases of suspected fraud totalling €320m in structural funds.
Europe’s missing billions
People & Power investigates why the EU funding system is riddled with fraud and mismanagement.
Europe is in the middle of its worst financial crisis for decades, and many are feeling the pain as people across the continent demonstrate against government cuts.
As unemployment grows, public services are slashed and billions of Euros go to bailing out the banks, and the continent’s hard pressed taxpayers are being asked to embrace austerity and contribute more.
The European Union is one of the main recipients of their money. Its huge budget is drawn from its member states, hundreds of billions of Euros that are meant to be redistributed as grants, to the projects and places most in need.
However not all of that money is going where it should. For several months, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has been looking into EU finances, and it has uncovered evidence of massive fraud.
Most disturbingly, as Angus Stickler now reports for People&Power, it seems that billions of taxpayer Euros are going straight into the pockets of organised crime.
Sculptures and paintings in stolen van include pieces by Pablo Picasso, Fernando Botero and Eduardo Chillida.
Giles Tremlett in Madrid
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 2 December 2010
Art thieves drove off in a van filled with works by Pablo Picasso and renowned sculptors Fernando Botero and Eduardo Chillida after breaking into a warehouse near Madrid.
The thieves took 22 sculptures and paintings worth an estimated €5m from the warehouse in Getafe at the weekend. They drove off using a key left in the van’s glove department.
Only about half of the artworks, which were being returned to Spain from a gallery in Germany, were insured, according to David Fernández of the Juan Gris gallery in Madrid. “I have been furious and upset about this since Monday,” he said. Monday was the day when some of the works should have been delivered to his gallery and five others in Madrid and Barcelona. “Nothing like this has happened to us in 40 years.”
The van carrying the artworks had been parked inside a warehouse belonging to the Crisóstomo transport company on Friday after arriving from the Stefan Röpke gallery in Cologne, Germany.
Three thieves broke into the warehouse at midday on Saturday. Police suspect that they knew the keys to the truck would be easily found, as they had driven away by the time a patrol car got to the scene. Part of the robbery was recorded by security cameras. The empty van was discovered on Tuesday.
At least a dozen of the works were by the Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida. Other works were by the Spanish artists Antonio Saura, Antoní Tapies and Julio González.
The German gallery had closed a month-long exhibition dedicated to Chillida on 20 November, which included figurative drawings, terracotta and iron sculptures, rare collages and a range of drawings and etchings.
The works were owned by the six galleries. It was not clear which of them had been insured.
“At a bad time like this some galleries are not insuring their work, which is mad,” said Fernández. “It never happens until it happens.”
German pupils told to keep chewing as scientists extol virtues of gum
Scepticism surrounds pilot scheme in Bavaria aimed at increasing concentration and encouraging learning.
Chewing gum boosts the ability to recall words by up to 35%, according to university research.
Kate Connolly in Berlin
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 2 December 2010
There was a time when there was no better way to irk a teacher than to chew gum in the classroom. But German schoolchildren are now being encouraged to do just that under a scheme to increase concentration and encourage learning.
In a pilot project at a primary school in Bavaria pupils are being given sticks of gum and told to chew them during lessons and at break time. It follows research which concluded that continuous chewing stimulates the brain.
“The positive effect of chewing probably lies in the fact that the part of the brain in the brainstem that keeps us alert is constantly stimulated, as a result of which the attention level rises, as does the flow of blood to the brain and with it the ability to learn,” said Siegfried Lehrl, head of the Society of Brain Training and a scientist at the University of Erlangen.
Hans Dasch, headteacher at the Volkenschwand primary school in Bavaria, said he had decided to introduce active gum chewing because “children need to come to school without any fear and to feel contentment.
“The learning environment needs to match their needs, which is why we’re encouraging them to chew gum during break times and in lessons.”
He said sugar-free gum had an added health benefit in that it kept teeth clean during meals.
IPCC study finds failure in care of vulnerable prisoners – and says juries are unwilling to convict police officers.
- The Guardian, Friday 3 December 2010
A total of 333 people have died in or following police custody over the past 11 years, but no officer has ever been successfully prosecuted, according to a watchdog’s report.
Prosecutions were recommended against 13 officers based on “relatively strong evidence of misconduct or neglect”, but none resulted in a guilty verdict.
Calling for further research, the Independent Police Complaints Commission said juries were unwilling to convict police officers. Len Jackson, IPCC interim chair, said: “It is clear to us there is some real difficulty in this area.”
By Gareth Porter
December 01, 2010 “IPS” — — A diplomatic cable from last February released by Wikileaks provides a detailed account of how Russian specialists on the Iranian ballistic missile programme refuted the U.S. suggestion that Iran has missiles that could target European capitals or intends to develop such a capability.
In fact, the Russians challenged the very existence of the mystery missile the U.S. claims Iran acquired from North Korea.
But readers of the two leading U.S. newspapers never learned those key facts about the document.
The New York Times and Washington Post reported only that the United States believed Iran had acquired such missiles – supposedly called the BM-25 – from North Korea. Neither newspaper reported the detailed Russian refutation of the U.S. view on the issue or the lack of hard evidence for the BM-25 from the U.S. side.
The Times, which had obtained the diplomatic cables not from Wikileaks but from The Guardian, according to a Washington Post story Monday, did not publish the text of the cable.
The Times story said the newspaper had made the decision not to publish “at the request of the Obama administration”. That meant that its readers could not compare the highly- distorted account of the document in the Times story against the original document without searching the Wikileaks website.
As a result, a key Wikileaks document which should have resulted in stories calling into question the thrust of the Obama administration’s ballistic missile defence policy in Europe based on an alleged Iranian missile threat has produced a spate of stories supporting the existing Iranian threat narrative.
Ministry of Defence told US that UK had ‘put measures in place’ to protect American interests during Chilcot inquiry.
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 30 November 2010
The British government promised to protect America’s interests during the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war, according to a secret cable sent from the US embassy in London.
Jon Day, the Ministry of Defence’s director general for security policy, told US under-secretary of state Ellen Tauscher that the UK had “put measures in place to protect your interests during the UK inquiry into the causes of the Iraq war”.