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Ex-Ireland rugby player charged with stealing almost €600,000 from BOI

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Former Irish rugby international Brendan Mullin is to face trial accused of deception, false accounting and theft of close to €600,000 from Bank of Ireland where he held a senior executive position.

Mullin (57) appeared at Dublin District Court on Tuesday following an investigation by the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) into bank fraud allegations going back a decade.

The former rugby star won 55 Irish caps between 1984 and 1995 before he went into financial services and became managing director at Bank of Ireland Private Banking Ltd.

He was arrested at 9.08am on Tuesday when he met gardaí in Dublin city-centre. He was brought to the Bridewell Garda station where he was charged with 15 offences which allegedly took place between 2011 and 2013.

He is accused of stealing €500,000 on December 16th 2011, at Bank of Ireland Private Bank at Burlington Plaza, Burlington Road, Dublin 4.

Mr Mullin, of Albert Lodge, Stillorgan Road, Donnybrook, Dublin 4, is charged with eight further thefts of amounts totalling €73,000 from the bank.

Five counts of false accounting were also put to him.

He was also charged with deception by inducing a named man and woman to sign a payment instruction with the intention of making gain for himself or another on July 27th, 2011.

Dressed in a grey suit and light blue shirt, he sat silently during his hearing before Judge Michael Walsh.

GNECB Detective Sean O’Riordan told the court Mr Mullin made no comment when charged.

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has directed trial on indictment meaning his case will go before a judge and jury in the circuit court.

The DPP has also stated that he can be sent forward for sentencing on a signed plea, should that arise, but defence solicitor Robert Purcell told Judge Walsh a book of evidence will be required.

Bail terms had been agreed, Judge Walsh noted, and it was set in Mr Mullin’s own bond of €10,000.

He was ordered to surrender his passport but this was not made a precondition of release; Judge Walsh warned him that it must be handed over to gardai within 48 hours of taking up bail.

Mr Mullin needed to travel for work purposes and that could be done once the GNECB detective is notified in advance, the judge said.

He must appear again at the District Court on November 11th next to be served with the book of evidence by the prosecution.

A trial order can then be granted.

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Diver finds 900-year-old Crusader sword off coast of Israel

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Shlomi Katzin attached a GoPro camera to his forehead, slipped on his diving fins and jumped into the waters off the Carmel coast of Israel, eager to go exploring.

On the sandy floor of the Mediterranean Sea, he found a sword. Archaeologists would later determine that it was about 900 years old.

It weighed four pounds, measured about four feet long and originated from the Third Crusade, experts said.

“Oh yes, he was surprised and happy,” said Jacob Sharvit, the director of the marine archaeology unit at the Israel Antiquities Authority. Katzin said he would give the sword to Sharvit’s agency, but he wanted just one thing: a photo with the shell-encrusted weapon.

The recent discovery was welcomed in a country that takes immense pride in its history and has a law requiring that any artifacts found must be returned to the nation. The sword was among several artifacts discovered by Katzin, who declined to be interviewed because he said he did not want the discovery to be about him. He also found stone anchors and pottery fragments that date back hundreds of years. But nothing was more impressive than the sword, which Sharvit described as “extremely rare.”

All of the items were found in the same 1,000-square-foot site. The authority has been aware of the location since June, after a storm shifted the sand. Still, finding artifacts remains elusive because of the movement of the sand.

“It’s normal to find swords in bad condition, but this one was found under the water – and under the water, it was preserved in very good condition,” Sharvit said Monday. “It’s the first time that we found a beautiful sword like this.”

The water off the Carmel coast remains the same temperature year-round, which helped preserve the iron in the sword. Because the iron was oxidizsed, shells and other marine organisms stuck onto it like glue, Sharvit said. The discovery of ancient artifacts has increased as diving has grown in popularity in Israel, he said.

In the Second Crusade, the Muslim forces defeated Western crusaders at Damascus, said Jonathan Phillips, a professor of the history of the Crusades at Royal Holloway, University of London. The sword would have been expensive to make at the time and viewed as a status symbol, Holloway said. It makes sense that it was found in the sea, he said, because many battles were waged near beaches, where Christian soldiers landed and were sometimes attacked by Muslim forces.

“It could have been from a knight who fell in the sea or lost it in a fight at sea,” he said. When Katzin found it, he said he was afraid it would be stolen or buried beneath shifting sand, according to a statement from the authority. The general director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Eli Escosido, praised Katzin because “every ancient artifact that is found helps us piece together the historical puzzle of the Land of Israel.” Katzin was given a certificate of appreciation for good citizenship.

During the Third Crusade, King Philip Augustus of France, King Richard I (also known as Richard the Lionheart of England), and the holy Roman emperor, Frederick I (also known as Frederick Barbarossa), set out to retake Jerusalem. Saladin, the ruler of an area covering modern Egypt, Syria and Iraq, had conquered it in 1187, said John Cotts, a professor of medieval history at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington.

At the time, Pope Gregory VIII tried to inspire Western Christians through “great emotional language” to retake Jerusalem from Muslims, but ultimately the Muslim army maintained control of the city, Cotts said. “Traditionally, the definition of a knight is someone on horseback who engaged in mounted warfare,” Cotts said. It is possible that the sword belonged to one of them, and has survived for nine centuries, Sharvit said. After the sword is studied and cleaned, it will be placed in one of the country’s museums, Sharvit said. He would not disclose how much it could sell for, he said, because in his opinion, it was “priceless.” “Every artifact we find is always a really great feeling,” he said. But this one “is very, very special.” This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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OPINION: Watching from Italy we always knew UK’s Covid response was a ‘failure’

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Watching the Covid-19 pandemic hit the UK from Italy was like looking into a parallel universe.

As someone with a dual British and Italian identity, it was also a defining moment for my relationship with the UK.

On March 9th, 2020, Italy’s then-Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced the first nationwide lockdown. The message of his historic ‘Io Resto a Casa’ (‘I’m staying home’) speech was clear: public health comes before other interests, as important as they may be.

And we stayed home. The Great Italian Bake-Off had begun.

As the crisis worsened in other countries, Britons living in Italy – and Italians living in Britain – looked at the UK’s response and thought: what are they waiting for?

To our frustration, the recent Commons report on the UK’s handling of the first wave of the pandemic only told those of us with connections to both countries what we already knew. The UK hadn’t learned from Italy’s experience.

Unsurprisingly, the Commons report called the UK’s government decisions on lockdowns and social distancing in the early weeks of the pandemic “one of the most important public health failures the UK has ever experienced”.

It was a delay that cost thousands of lives.

Italy battled the pandemic with little data. But crucially, Italian officials drilled the message, quite literally, home: the situation is serious and there is no time to waste.

SEE ALSO: 19 unforgettable photos from a year of strict Covid lockdowns in Italy

By comparison, the UK’s attitude – despite by then having access to data from China, the WHO and Italy – was staggering.

The Commons report brings the bewilderment we felt at the time into clear focus.

On January 31st 2020, then-Health Minister Matt Hancock was informed by experts that a worst-case scenario would cause 820,000 deaths.

The same week Italy locked down, the numbers in the UK started to align with this worst-case scenario. Despite the alarming data, Britain’s lockdown plan was yet to be formulated.

The same day, famed TV doctor Christian Jessen was forced to issue a public apology after comparing Covid-19 to the flu and accusing Italians of using lockdown as an excuse for a “siesta”.

Faced with such widespread mixed messaging, it’s little wonder the British public appeared largely oblivious to the looming danger.

As the military was called in to help with Bergamo’s overflowing morgues on March 18th, British acquaintances happily announced on social media that they were not closing shop.

Watching the UK’s response to Covid from Italy was like watching a drunk friend get behind the wheel of their car. Unfortunately, there was no snatching the keys out of their hands and calling a taxi.

Sharon Braithwaite, a British-Italian journalist living in London, says that, as people stocked up on pasta and toilet paper, she too asked: ”when will the (UK) government do something concrete?’.

It was frustrating – and at times insulting – for those of us with connections to both countries to hear how the Italian crisis was being narrated in Britain.

A great deal of myths have been used to justify why Italy was so badly affected. Some blamed multi-generational families living under the same roof, while others pointed the finger at the Italian practice of kissing on the cheek. Though multigenerational families are more common in Italy than they are in the UK, the set-up is not so widespread that it could explain the overfilled morgues.

READ ALSO: Eight things the Covid crisis has taught us about Italy

Perhaps most insidious of all were the comments made about Italy’s National Health System.

In one example, Dr Zoe Williams, a family doctor and media personality, reassured the public by saying in an interview on This Morning – a staple of British daytime TV – that ‘[the British] healthcare system is very different to Italy’.

Where the difference lies is unclear: both countries fall under the same universal healthcare model, even though Italy’s is highly decentralised, leaving health care management to individual regions.

Contrary to popular opinion, the Italian health care system is internationally well-regarded and is often ranked as one of the best in the world.

And the pandemic first hit (and overwhelmed) northern Italian regions widely regarded as having the best healthcare in the country.

Seeing Italy’s flagship hospitals in the wealthy region of Lombardy under tremendous strain should have been a further alarm bell.

If Italians have the second-highest life expectancy in Europe (83.1 years, second only to Spain) the healthcare system is to thank.

During the British government’s own enquiry, Professor Dame Sally Davies, former Chief Medical Officer for England, blamed “groupthink” and “British exceptionalism” for the fact British experts did not believe something like SARS could ever get from Asia to the UK.

READ ALSO: What can Italy teach the rest of the world about health?

As Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, said: the UK “missed an opportunity to prepare during the first months of 2020”.

This had long been apparent to many in Italy. As someone with dual British and Italian identity, the pandemic, paired with the chaos created by Brexit, is transforming my relationship with Britain. 

No longer the country of common sense and opportunity, Britain seems like a land consumed by isolationism and exceptionalism – an issue which has now engulfed public health.

The UK now has among the highest infection rates in the world, with 45,000 new cases being reported in a single day. The death toll is rising.

In Italy, for now the health situation remains largely under control. The government and the majority of people remain cautious. In some ways, nothing has changed.



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Planeta Prize: The truth about Spain’s mystery novelist Carmen Mola: ‘We did not hide behind a woman, just behind a name’ | Culture

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The three men who, it turns out, were really writing the best-selling thrillers by Spanish mystery novelist Carmen Mola have spoken out to tell their story, following the controversy triggered last week when their real identities were revealed at the award ceremony of a major literary competition.

Jorge Díaz, Agustín Martínez and Antonio Mercero, professional screenwriters in their forties and fifties, were persuaded to come forward when their manuscript La bestia (or, The beast), a gory tale of child murders set in Madrid during the cholera epidemic of 1834, was named the winner of this year’s Planeta Prize, handed by the same-name publishing house. This year the prize money had been raised from €601,000 to a full €1 million, overtaking the Nobel Prizes in the amount awarded to the winner.

Díaz, Martínez and Mercero said that the idea for picking a woman’s name as a pseudonym was not deliberate. According to Martínez, it took only “a minute and a half of throwing around men’s names, women’s names, foreign-sounding names…”

“I don’t know whether a female pseudonym sells better than a male one, I haven’t the faintest idea, but it doesn’t look that way to me,” added Mercero. “We didn’t hide behind a woman, just behind a name.”

Carmen Mola had become a literary sensation, producing a bestselling trilogy about a female police inspector named Elena Blanco who solves gruesome crimes. The first novel, The Gypsy Bride, came out in 2018 and a fourth book in the series is expected out in March with the publisher Alfaguara, which is owned by the Penguin Random House Group – Planeta’s main rival in Spain. Under the terms of the Planeta prize, which only accepts unpublished manuscripts, La bestia will be published by Planeta.

Mola, whose Elena Blanco trilogy has already sold 400,000 copies, had also been marketed as a university professor in her forties and a mother of three who wrote fiction in her spare time and preferred to remain anonymous by using a pseudonym. She even gave interviews to print news organizations. EL PAÍS conducted an interview with Mola in 2018 through e-mail, the only way that “she” would accept to talk to the media.

When the three authors finally revealed their true identity on Friday at the award ceremony, it caused a stir in literary circles and in social media. Beatriz Gimeno, a writer, lawmaker and former director of the Women’s Institute of Spain, said that the deception goes well beyond the realm of the literary. “Beyond the use of a female pseudonym is the fact that these individuals have been granting interviews for years,” she said in a Twitter message. “It’s not just the name, it’s the fake profile with which they duped readers and journalists. Scammers.”

FERNANDO VICENTE

All three authors now say that if they had guessed how successful their first thriller about Inspector Elena Blanco would be, they would have given it more thought and perhaps come up with a different name. “But the whole thing started to gain traction and built up into a wave that we could not get out of. There were translations, we were asked for another novel…” said Díaz. “We had to write something about the author for the dust jacket sleeve, so we made up that she was a university professor from Madrid. But she could just as well have been a taster of gin-and-tonics…first we said she had two children, then we forgot and said she had three…we haven’t been very rigorous about it,” added Mercero.

Penguin Random House is playing down the relevance of the fact that its rival publisher Planeta has lured the authors away with its million-euro check. But María Fasce, a publisher at Alfaguara, called it “a marketing operation.” Screenwriters are increasingly sought after by publishing houses due to the growing popularity of television series that are often based on books.

In fact the story begins with a former Penguin employee. Justyna Rzewska, who used to work in Penguin’s international rights sales department, founded a small literary agency named Hanska in 2017 and sent Alfaguara Negra the manuscript for the first novel she was going to represent. This department, which specializes in crime novels, was looking for a writer in Spain who would have a similar impact to foreign authors such as Pierre Lemaitre or Joël Dicker. The manuscript was received by María Fasce, who was fascinated by the story but soon learned that Carmen Mola was a pseudonym and that the real writer wished to remain anonymous.

“In these cases, when a published reaches a deal with a writer, the deal is strictly honored. You act as though it were a writer who doesn’t want to talk to you and you wait for his or her great novels,” she said in a conversation with EL PAÍS. The book was an immediate best-seller.

The winners of the Planeta Prize, Agustín Martínez, Jorge Díaz and Antonio Mercero, with King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia.
The winners of the Planeta Prize, Agustín Martínez, Jorge Díaz and Antonio Mercero, with King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia.Albert García

The publisher said she could not comment on when she knew that Mola was really Jorge Díaz, Agustín Martínez and Antonio Mercero. The secret was always part of the process, even after The Purple Network came out in 2019 and The Girl in 2020.

“We’ve been lying like dogs for four years and several months,” laughed Díaz. “It’s been a long time since [I published my own] last novel, and more than one person had chided me for not writing anything else, for being lazy. And I would think, ‘If only you knew…!’”

There was a circle of people who knew something was up, but very few (and very discreet ones) who knew that one of the three might be behind Carmen Mola. But nobody knew it was the three of them.

Díaz, Martínez and Mercero said they are not expecting to begin a new saga with La Bestia. Then again, they hadn’t been expecting to write several books about Elena Blanco, either. “We’ve had a really good time working within this genre,” said Martínez. “We live by the principle of pleasure. We are hedonistic writers, not authors who suffer when they write, and I believe that when you’re having a good time, the book comes out better. That’s what we’ve always wanted to do, to have fun writing.”

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