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New York state begins criminal probe into Trump company

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The New York attorney general’s office said on Tuesday it has now opened a criminal investigation into former United States president Donald Trump’s company, increasing the legal risk for Mr Trump and his family.

Attorney general Letitia James has been investigating whether the Trump Organization falsely reported property values to secure loans and obtain economic and tax benefits.

The latest announcement marked another escalation of the legal jeopardy Mr Trump faces four months after leaving office, taking to three the number of known criminal investigations of the former Republican president.

“We have informed the Trump Organization that our investigation into the organisation is no longer purely civil in nature,” Fabien Levy, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said in a statement.

“We are now actively investigating the Trump Organization in a criminal capacity, along with the Manhattan DA [district attorney],” he said.

The Trump Organization, the former president’s family-owned business, could not immediately be reached for comment. Mr Trump has said that the investigation overseen by Ms James, a Democrat, is politically motivated.

Ms James has been investigating whether the Trump Organization inflated the values of some properties to obtain better loans, and lowered their values to obtain property tax breaks.

Separately, Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance has been investigating Mr Trump’s pre-presidency business dealings for more than two years.

Mr Vance’s office has said in court filings it was investigating “possibly extensive and protracted criminal conduct” at the Trump Organization, including tax and insurance fraud, and falsification of business records.

In February, prosecutors in Fulton County, Georgia, opened a criminal investigation into Mr Trump’s attempts to influence the state’s 2020 election results, after he was recorded in a January 2nd phone call pressuring Georgia’s secretary of state to overturn the outcome of voting based on unfounded claims of tampering.

Mr Vance’s probe began after Mr Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen paid hush money to silence two women before the 2016 election about extramarital sexual encounters they claimed to have had with Mr Trump.

Ms James has said she opened her inquiry after Mr Cohen testified before Congress that Mr Trump’s financial statements were manipulated to save money on loans or reduce his real estate taxes.

Mr Cohen, who once said he would take a bullet for Mr Trump, pleaded guilty in 2018 to campaign finance violations and other crimes, and is currently serving his three-year sentence under home confinement.

Tax break

“As more documents are reviewed by the NYAG and NYDA, it appears that the troubles for Donald Trump just keep on coming! Soon enough, Donald and Associates will be held responsible for their actions,” Mr Cohen said in a text message to Reuters on Tuesday night.

Two people familiar with Mr Vance’s probe have told Reuters that Mr Cohen has been interviewed by the district attorney’s investigators.

Court records show that the New York attorney general and Manhattan district attorney investigations, while separate from one another, do overlap.

Both are examining how the Trump Organization and its agents assessed the value of Seven Springs, a 212-acre estate north of Manhattan that Mr Trump purchased in 1995. Mr Trump’s company has said the century-old, 50,000sq ft mansion on the grounds was used as a Trump family retreat.

Mr Trump’s ambitions to build a championship golf course there were derailed by local opposition, and he shelved another plan to build luxury homes.

But the property did become a vehicle for a tax break, according to property records and court filings. In 2015, he signed a conservation easement – an agreement not to develop the property – covering 158 acres.

The attorney general’s office said in a court filing that an appraiser hired by Mr Trump before the conservation agreement set the property’s value at $56.5 million (€46 million) and the easement’s value at $21.1 million (€17 million) – an amount Mr Trump claimed as an income tax deduction. – Reuters

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Shocking news, Irish people may be sanest in Europe

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Ireland is running low on loopers. If we don’t watch out, we could emerge from the pandemic with our reputation for wildness completely shredded. We are in danger of being exposed as the sanest people in Europe.

Vaccines go into the arm, but also into the brain. They are a kind of probe sent into the national consciousness. In Ireland’s case, the probe has discovered exciting evidence of intelligent life.

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Vienna school under fire for sex ed class using doll for children as young as six

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According to Austria’s Kronen Zeitung newspaper, a teacher used a doll to explain “how sex works” to the children, while also encouraging them to use their hands and fingers on the doll. 

She said she wanted to “enlighten” the children about aspects of sex education. The children in the class were between the ages of six and ten. 

The teacher also explained to the children that “condoms should be used if you don’t want to have babies”, the newspaper reports. 

One boy was told to remove the clothes of the doll but refused before being told that he had to do so. 

The boys parents removed him from the school, saying that he was “overwhelmed” after the class and had started touching his sister inappropriately. 

“We have never seen our son like this before, he was completely overwhelmed” the parents said anonymously, “we are taking him out of the school.”

“We can already see the consequences. 

“A few days after these disturbing lessons, a classmate came to us to play. Like many times before, the boy also played with our ten-year-old daughter. This time he suddenly wanted to pull her pants down.

Peter Stippl, President of the Association for Psychotherapy, said that while sex education was crucially important, it needed to be age appropriate in order to be effective. 

“(This type of sexual education) scares the children! They get a wrong approach to the topic and their natural limit of shame is violated,” he said. 

“Sex education must always be age-appropriate and development-appropriate. Many children are six, seven or eight years old – or even older – not interested in sexual intercourse.

“We should never explain sexuality in schools in isolation from love and relationships. It makes you feel insecure and afraid. It harms the development of children.”

The Austrian Ministry of Education will now set up a commission to determine who will be allowed to teach sex ed in schools. 

The city of Vienna is also investigating the specific incident. 



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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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