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Former ChildFund boss spent ‘excessive’ amounts on hospitality

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The former chief executive of an Irish charity spent an “excessive and inappropriate” amount of money on restaurants, travel and accommodation, an investigation by the Charities Regulator has found.

In a damning 52-page report, the watchdog found that ChildFund Ireland, which has received millions of euro from the State, did not have “adequate” control in managing its spending on travel, expenses, income, credit card expenditure, petty cash, payment of bonuses and overheads.

The report said such weaknesses created “significant financial and reputational risk” to the charity.

Inspectors also found a lack of sufficient oversight by the charity’s board over its financial matters, and an inappropriate financial governance structure where the chief executive had most of the approval authority and responsibility for internal control.

They also found that an “ineffective” finance and audit sub-committee only met on limited occasions and had an “inappropriately defined” scope of work.

The report said there was “inadequate oversight” by the board and sub-committee of credit card and travel expenditure, procurement and purchase approvals, retirement expenditure, bonuses and recruitment practices.

The international charity, which was founded in 1991, supports the education of children in developing countries such as Ethiopia.

The investigation into the charity came after a number of concerns were raised with the regulator, including one in December 2018.

Concerns

The concerns raised were in relation to the conduct of ChildFund’s former chief executive Michael Kiely, credit card expenditure, lack of control by the trustees of ChildFund, and the breakdown in the relationship between ChildFund and its most significant contributor, Irish Aid.

An investigation was carried out which looked at the appropriate use of charitable assets and the procedures for the recording and authorisation of payments.

It found that the finance director, who was unnamed in the report, was allowed to make decisions that were not in line with policies and procedures of the charity after she employed seven people contrary to its recruitment policies.

The finance director gave jobs to six people she knew. However, the roles were not advertised and there were no interview processes.

It was claimed that the staff were brought in as emergency recruitment to deal with the extra work around Christmas; however the inspectors said that two of the six staff were still on the payroll in March 2020.

It also emerged that Mr Kiely, the finance director and her daughter went on a trip to Zambia at a cost of more than €6,300.

The finance director’s daughter is not a member of staff, despite travelling at the expense of the charity.

Mr Kiely told inspectors that the director’s daughter was appointed junior ambassador to take books to children on the trip to Zambia, despite there being no formal recruitment or appointment procedure for the role.

The former chief executive resigned in December 2017, and it emerged that a series of large expenditures were incurred for his retirement lunch and dinner.

The organisation had a deficit of €12,436 when it spent a total of €2,774 on these events, including a €600 farewell gift.

Inspectors from the Charities Regulator found that a large portion of spending went on food and meals in restaurants.

From January 2017 to July 2018 the finance director’s credit card expenditure on food was €3,812.19.

This included meals, some of which the former chief executive attended after he retired.

Incidents of expenditure

Of the 84 incidents of expenditure on food by the finance director using the company credit card, none was supported by an expenses claim form, only one was supported by a detailed receipt, and 12 were supported with a Visa receipt only.

The remaining 71 expenditures had no supporting documents, the regulator found.

A review of credit card statements and receipts found that only 154 out of 417 expenses claims included back-up documents, and there was no approval of expenses by the board.

The regulator said it could not conclude whether the expenses were for charitable purposes.

The regulator also noted that the position of the chief executive was not filled until August 2018 and that the organisation was managed by the finance director, despite board members admitting that she was not qualified.

Previous reports into the charity found that there were issues around its structure and wage costs.

The latest report found that the “ineffective board” has not acted in a timely manner on the recommendations set out in the three reports.

In a statement, ChildFund Ireland chairman Gerald Doherty said the board “broadly accepts” its findings.

“The board fully accept and deeply regret that the control functions and oversight were not of a sufficiently high standard and the board wish to assure our donors and stakeholders that the matters identified in September 2018 were addressed once they had come to the board’s attention,” he said.

“The board would like to emphasise to all stakeholders that since January 2019, it has been engaging with ChildFund International to secure its future.

“It has been a difficult period for the charity, and many of the steps which the report highlights and advises, could not be undertaken until such time as the regulatory process had concluded.”

The Irish Times has sought comment from the parties involved. – Additional reporting: PA

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Madrid’s Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado granted World Heritage status | Culture

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Madrid’s famous Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado boulevard have been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The decision, made on Sunday, brings the total number of World Heritage Sites in Spain to 49 – the third-highest in the world after Italy and China.

Up until Sunday, none of these sites were located in the Spanish capital. The Madrid region, however, was home to three: El Escorial Monastery in Alcalá de Henares, the historical center of Aranjuez and the Montejo beech forest in Montejo de la Sierra.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez celebrated the news on Twitter, saying it was a “deserved recognition of a space in the capital that enriches our historical, artistic and cultural legacy.”

Retiro Park is a green refuge of 118 hectares in the center of the city of Madrid. Paseo del Prado boulevard is another icon of the capital, featuring six museums, major fountains such as the Fuente de Cibeles as well as the famous Plaza de Cibeles square.

For the sites to be granted World Heritage status, Spain needed the support of two-thirds of the UNESCO committee – 15 votes from 21 countries. The proposal was backed by Brazil, Ethiopia, Russia, Uganda, Nigeria, Mali, Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, Oman and Saudi Arabia, among others.

Statue of Apollo in Paseo del Prado.
Statue of Apollo in Paseo del Prado.Víctor Sainz

Prior to the vote, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the organization that advises UNESCO, had argued against considering the Paseo del Prado and Retiro Park as one site, and recommended that the latter be left out on the grounds that there were no “historic justifications” for the two to be paired.

This idea was strongly opposed by Spain’s ambassador to UNESCO, Andrés Perelló, who said: “What they are asking us to do is rip out a lung from Madrid. El Prado and El Retiro are a happy union, whose marriage is certified with a cartography more than three centuries old.” The origins of Paseo del Prado date back to 1565, while Retiro Park was first opened to the public during the Enlightenment.

Pedestrians on Paseo del Prado.
Pedestrians on Paseo del Prado. Víctor Sainz

The ICOMOS report also denounced the air pollution surrounding the site. To address these concerns, Madrid City Hall indicated it plans to reduce car traffic under its Madrid 360 initiative, which among other things is set to turn 10 kilometers of 48 streets into pedestrian areas, but is considered less ambitious than its predecessor Madrid Central.

The 44th session of the World Heritage Committee took place in the Chinese city of Fuzhou and was broadcast live at Madrid’s El Prado Museum. Perelló summed up the reasons to include Retiro Park and El Paseo de Prado in less than three minutes.

“When people say ‘from Madrid to heaven’ [the slogan of the Spanish capital] I ask myself why would you want to go to heaven when heaven is already in Madrid,” he told delegates at the event, which was scheduled to take place in 2020, but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Every year, UNESCO evaluates 25 proposals for additions to the World Heritage List. In the case of the Paseo del Prado and Retiro Park, the site was judged on whether it evidenced an exchange of considerable architectural influences, was a representative example of a form of construction or complex and if it was associated with traditions that are still alive today. The famous park and boulevard sought to be inscribed on the UNESCO list in 1992, but its candidacy did not reach the final stage of the process.

Etching of Paseo del Prado from Cibeles fountain, by Isidro González Velázquez (1788).
Etching of Paseo del Prado from Cibeles fountain, by Isidro González Velázquez (1788).Biblioteca Nacional de España

The effort to win recognition for the sites’ outstanding universal value began again in 2014 under former Madrid mayor Ana Botella, of the conservative Popular Party (PP), and was strengthed by her successor Manuela Carmena, of the leftist Ahora Madrid party, which was later renamed Más Madrid. An advisor from UNESCO visited the site in October 2019.

English version by Melissa Kitson.



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Ryanair reports €273m loss as passenger traffic rebounds

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Ryanair has reported a €273 million loss for its first quarter even as traffic rebounded during the period.

The carrier said it carried 8.1 million passengers in the three month period, which cover April to June. This compares to just 500,000 in the same period a year earlier.

Revenues increased 196 per cent from €125 million in the first quarter of 2020 to €371 million for the same quarter this year. Operation costs also rose however, jumping from €313 million to €675 million.

Net debt reduced by 27 per cent on the back of strong operating of €590 million.

“Covid-19 continued to wreak havoc on our business during the first quarter with most Easter flights cancelled and a slower than expected easing of EU travel restrictions into May and June,” said group chief executive Michael O’Leary.

“Based on current bookings, we expect traffic to rise from over five million in June to almost nine million in July, and over 10 million in August, as long as there are no further Covid setbacks in Europe,” he added.

Ryanair said the rollout of EU digital Covid certificates and the scrapping of quarantine for vaccinated arrivals to Britain from mid-July has led to a surge in bookings in recent week.

First quarter scheduled revenues increased 91 per cent to €192 million on the back of the rise in passenger traffic although this was offset by the cancellation of Easter traffic and a delay in the relaxation of travel restrictions.

Ancillary revenue generated approximately €22 per passenger the company said.

Mr O’Leary foresaw growth opportunities for the airline due to the collapse of many European airlines during the Covid crisis, and widespread capacity cuts at other carriers.

“We are encouraged by the high rate of vaccinations across Europe. If, as is presently predicted, most of Europe’s adult population is fully vaccinated by September., then we believe that we can look forward to a strong recovery in air travel for the second half of the fiscal year and well into 2022 – as is presently the case in domestic US air travel,” he said.

However, the airline warned the future remains challenging due to continued Covid restrictions and a lack of bookings and that this meant it was impossible to provided “meaningful” guidance at the time.

“We believe that full0year 2022 traffic has improved to a range of 90 million to 100 million (previously guided at the lower end of an 80 million to 120 million passenger range) and (cautiously) expect that the likely outcome for the year is somewhere between a small loss and breakeven. This is dependent on the continued rollout of vaccines this summer, and no adverse Covid variant developments,” said Mr O’Leary.

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Switzerland’s Credit Suisse settles with star banker over spying scandal

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CEO Tidjane Thiam was forced to resign in February 2020 after admitting the bank had hired investigators to follow Khan, head of international wealth management, because he had opted to move to arch-rival, UBS.

As well as sending shockwaves through banking circles, the case sparked a criminal probe in Switzerland.

“All parties involved have agreed to end the case,” Credit Suisse spokeswoman Simone Meier told NZZ am Sonntag, which revealed the agreement.

Meier declined to comment further when contacted by AFP.

The public prosecutor of the canton of Zurich has also ended his investigation, as the complaints have been withdrawn, NZZ am Sonntag reported.

Thiam’s resignation followed a torrid six-month scandal that began with revelations in the Swiss press that Khan had been shadowed by agents from a private detective company hired after he joined UBS. 

At one point, Khan physically confronted the people following him.

In October, chief operating officer Pierre-Olivier Bouee resigned, acknowledging at the end of an internal investigation that he “alone” had ordered the tailing without informing his superiors.

He had wanted to ensure that Khan was not trying to poach other employees, according to the internal investigation.

The case was reopened in December 2019 when the bank admitted to a second case of espionage, this time involving the former head of human resources, and then in February after media reports that the surveillance had also targeted the environmental organisation Greenpeace.



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