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‘Ghost’ insurance broker is given community service

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A man who acted as a “ghost broker” for his friends and acquaintances, giving false information to car insurance companies to get cheaper policies, has been ordered to carry out community service.

Vasile Braileanu (43) was on Friday ordered to carry out 240 hours of community service in lieu of a two year prison term for defrauding a number of motor insurance companies of about €13,000.

Braileanu, of Adamstown Avenue, Lucan, Co Dublin, pleaded guilty to 15 fraud-related offences, including dishonestly inducing insurance companies to give policies at a reduced premiums and making, using and possessing false documents such as no claims discount and experienced driver certificates.

Braileanu committed the ghost broker offences between April 2015 and November 2017, when his house was searched by gardaí­ who had been tipped off to his operation.

He also admitted to being the customer of a ghost broker in September 2013, when he got a cheaper premium and then became interested in doing it himself, the court heard.

Garda George Thurlow told John Byrne BL, prosecuting, that when interviewed, Braileanu admitted to brokering 30 policies for friends and acquaintances using fake documents. However, investigating gardaí only found evidence of 10 policies that had been brokered.

Braileanu said he received about €400-€600 in payment for brokering each policy. In one example, he got a motor insurance premium from Allianz Insurance down from €1292 to €692 by submitting false documents, the court heard.

Gardaí searching his home found a “ghost brokering kit” and templates for documents such as “no claims discount” and “experienced driver” certificates.

Garda Thurlow agreed with defence counsel that Braileanu was at the lower end of the scale compared to other ghost brokering operations he had investigated. “It was a small operation and an amateur operation,” he said.

Braileanu did not advertise his business on social media but operated by “word of mouth”, the court heard.

He is originally from Moldova and has a wife and two children. He holds a degree in construction but was working as a bus driver up until the pandemic. He is now on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP).

Sentencing Braileanu, Judge Martin Nolan said he was acting as a “shadow agent” to induce insurance companies to issue cheaper insurance policies. “It seems impossible to believe that his customers didn’t know that something suspicious was happening,” he said.

The court heard that the fraudulent insurance polices were cancelled once they were discovered, but the customers who took them out were treated as injured parties.

Judge Nolan accepted it was an amateur operation and he ordered Braileanu to carry out 240 hours of community service. He adjourned the case to July 7th, to ascertain that Braileanu is deemed suitable.

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Reader question: When must I change to winter tyres in Switzerland?

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While winters have been a little milder in recent years, the snow, ice and sleet can still play havoc with your car.

Landslides and other road damage caused by inclement winter weather can also mean you lose control a little easier. 

Even in city areas, the colder weather can increase the risk of losing control. 

READ MORE: Ten strange Swiss road signs you need to know about

In Switzerland, the law is relatively complex. While there is no hard and fast rule for winter tyres at certain times, you have a responsibility to ensure your vehicle is roadworthy – which means being ready for the conditions. 

When do I need to put winter tyres on – and what happens if I don’t? 

Unlike many of its neighbours – and many cold countries from across the world – winter tyres are not mandatory in Switzerland. 

Therefore, you will not face any penalty if you continue to drive on summer tyres all year ‘round, either on a federal or cantonal basis.  

This is somewhat surprising for people from Austria, Sweden, Finland and some parts of the United States where winter tyres are mandatory during colder months. 

In Austria, for instance, winter tyres are required from November to April, regardless of the conditions. 

In Germany, Italy and Norway, winter tyres are not mandatory on the basis of the year’s calendar, but they are required in certain road conditions. 

However, certain roads can require you to have chains or winter tyres in order to drive on them at certain times.

This will be designated by a sign on a particular road or pass that winter tyres are required. 

Generally speaking, this will be on mountain roads or other passes, rather than in city streets. 

OK, so I don’t have to, but when should I change? 

The Swiss Road Traffic Act (Art. 29) says that all drivers on Swiss roads have a responsibility to ensure their vehicles are in a roadworthy condition. 

In slippery, winter conditions, the best way to ensure that your car does not lose control is to have it fitted with winter tyres. 

There are also insurance obligations to consider. 

The Swiss government notes that drivers without winter tyres may be deemed to be negligent. 

Driving in Europe: What are the Covid rules and checks at road borders?

“In the case of an accident, the driver may be found liable if the car is not properly equipped for the winter. The insurance company may not cover the full cost of the damage or may even take action against the insured person for negligence.”

Touring Club Switzerland (TCS) says that you should consider putting winter tyres on your car if the temperature drops below 7 degrees. 

Auto Suisse says that a default rule to follow is consider replacing summer tyres with winter ones from October until Easter, although this is of course dependent on the conditions. 



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Social media: Why vaccines, paella and ‘tortilla’ trend on Spanish Twitter | Opinion

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The content that gets shared the most on social media is not always an indignant message or an ingenious insult. Sometimes, it can even be pleasant to be on Twitter. This past weekend, the German television network Deutsche Welle published an English-language video special about Spain’s successful Covid-19 vaccination campaign. This video has been shared by Twitter users more than a thousand times in messages that expressed pride and included the hashtag #marcaEspaña (or, Brand Spain).

The Deutsche Welle video compared the 78% rate of fully vaccinated people in Spain at the time the report was made (the figure is now closer to 80%) to the 69% in Italy, 68% in France and 65% in Germany. Some of the reasons put forward to explain this success, despite a slow start, include widespread faith in the country’s public health system, the media’s scant coverage of vaccine conspiracy theories, and also “the devastating first wave of the pandemic.”

Positive messages about Spain from a foreign source are usually popular on social media. But at the same time it seems that if a Spaniard mentions that the country is doing something reasonably well, such as the vaccination campaign for instance, their fellow countrymen have trouble believing it. The impression (not always off base) is that the speaker has an axe to grind or may be trying to sell us a story (or even worse, a flag). But if a foreign media outlet says the same thing – well, we may not be fully convinced, but at least we enjoy hearing it.

And it’s not just with crucial subject matter such as vaccines. It also happens with other less critically important issues, such as Spain’s famous potato omelet, or tortilla de patatas. When a reporter from The New York Times extolled celebrity chef Ferrán Adriá’s version, made with potato chips from a bag rather than freshly sliced potatoes, it prompted nothing but satisfied tweets. But messages about the same recipe shared before the article came out showed a marked difference of opinions, to put it mildly.

It also works the other way around: when our dear old Spain comes under attack, we view it as an affront requiring revenge. There are still Twitter users out there who have not forgiven British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver for making a paella with chorizo in 2016 (at the time, some people compared his creation with the notorious botched restoration of a Christ figure in 2012).

And let’s not forget what happened to an Italian citizen who tweeted this summer that Spain was like Italy, but a bit worse. I will refrain from mentioning his name because he has already put up with enough grief. “Hey guys,” he amusingly tweeted afterwards. “Just checking, does ‘me cago en tu puta madre’ mean ‘I respectfully disagree’?”

I don’t think that Twitter turns us into patriots, fortunately enough for everyone. There’s no doubt that a lot of different elements are at play here: it’s easier to praise the Deutsche Welle video if you are a supporter of public healthcare (or even of the government). As for the food disputes, there is a lot of joking and pretending going on there. There is also an element of surprise: while we find it normal for there to be talk in Spain about the US, the UK or Germany, we are surprised every time Spain is mentioned abroad, and that’s because we tend to view ourselves as rather insignificant (which is understandable). And I’m also not ruling out the view held by some that focusing so much on what the foreign media says is, in itself, quite provincial.

But it’s also true that we should all find some joy in the fact that, once in a while, we can work together to do something well. And perhaps even celebrate with a good tortilla de patatas. I won’t go into whether it should have onion in it or not, because I don’t want to ruin the moment with another argument.



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Misconceptions about meaning of antigen results widespread, report finds

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Widespread misconceptions exist about Covid-19 antigen testing, according to a new report, with almost half of us thinking a person with symptoms doesn’t have to self-isolate if there is a negative result.

Twelve per cent say they do not know how to interpret a negative antigen test and another 4 per cent say it is fine to socialise, even with symptoms.

This baseline level of public understanding presents a “clear set of communications challenges,” according to the interim report of the rapid testing expert advisory group.

The Government earlier this week gave the go-ahead for the use of antigen testing for asymptomatic close contacts, and their wide use for large events. Up to now, the National Public Health Emergency Team has resisted the wider use of antigen testing, arguing it was inferior to the system of PCR testing already in place.

The report says rapid antigen tests (RADT) are an additional tool and not a substitute for existing public health measures. PCR testing remains the “gold standard” for diagnosing Covid-19 infections.

But antigen tests can reliably detect those most likely to be infectious and the speed with which the result is obtained enables “rapid intervention” to prevent onward transmission of the virus. Although they do not identify all cases, they are cheap and can be deployed at scale.

The results of antigen tests are available within minutes, whereas it takes about a day for the result of more expensive PCR testing to be provided.

Less than half of the population knew an antigen test was “less good” at detecting the virus than a PCR test, according to a survey carried out for the report.

Some 39 per cent of people though that where a person with symptoms took a rapid test and got a negative result, s/he had no need to self-isolate.

“Overall, the results suggest widespread misconceptions in Ireland about the sensitivity of RADT, how they are of benefit, and the implications of test results.”

“In a landscape of continual change as demonstrated by the unpredictability of this pandemic, it is possible rapid antigen testing may play an important part of future testing programmes.”

Antigen testing may have a role within specific settings as a complementary public health intervention to existing infection prevention and control measures, the report states.

There may be benefits to deploying it in specific settings “depending on the incidence of Covid-19 in the country”.

“It is important that the benefits and limitations of all tests are communicated to the public. It should be noted that rapid antigen detection tests should not be used to support behavioural changes that are contrary to public health recommendations.”

The expert advisory group, chaired by Prof Mary Horgan, was appointed by the Minister for Health last July.

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