Archive for the ‘Italy’ Category

A “no” in the Italian referendum would be the beginning of the end of the Euro

November 18, 2016

The Italian referendum on 4th December is actually about the constitution. The intention with a yes vote would be to reduce the size and limit the power of the upper house to make it easier for governments to govern. But it is indirectly also a referendum on the Euro. While a “yes” vote would allow Matteo Renzi to continue as Prime Minister, and though it will be a great relief for the Eurocrats, it would be far from a ratification or an approval of the EU or the Euro. A “no” vote on the other hand would be a Brexit-like, hammer blow to the Euro and to the misguided concept of a Holy European Empire. I suspect it would be the beginning of the end of the Euro.

The Spectator:

Though he is a big fan of the European Union, Barack Obama brings bad karma to it. …… His farewell visit is, if not a kiss of death, surely a bad omen for the EU and most immediately for one of those present in Berlin to bid him goodbye: Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, who has called an all–important referendum on constitutional reform for 4 December. If he loses, as looks ever more likely, it could cause a run on Italy’s sclerotic banks that could engulf the eurozone. ….

….. In essence, Renzi wants to curtail the powers of the upper house, the senate, and to cut the number of senators — who would no longer be elected, but appointed by regional governments — from 315 to 100. If he succeeds, his economic reforms should be easier to pass. ……… 

Grillo has dismissed the referendum question as ‘incomprensibile’. His movement and most of what remains of media tycoon Berlusconi’s party, Forza Italia, will vote ‘no’ in the referendum. So too will the right-wing populist Northern League party, which also wants Italy out of the euro and illegal immigrants out of Italy. On top of that will be a significant tranche of Renzi’s own party.

So this has become a referendum not just on constitutional reform but on Renzi — and if not on Italian membership of the EU, certainly on the euro. The Brexit vote, the triumph of Trump and the populist spring tide sweeping Europe are sure to convince many Italians to vote against Renzi.

The connection between a constitutional question (almost imcomprehensibly phrased) and the Euro is obscure but real.

Italy: Performance in the Eurozone (graphic via Forbes)

Italy: Performance in the Eurozone (graphic via Forbes)

ForbesKnow this: The European Monetary Union does not work very well, if at all, without Italy. A “no” vote would be the death knell of the euro. …….

……… If he loses, Renzi has promised to step down—a pledge that has turned the referendum into a popular vote of confidence in the unelected prime minister, his Europhile policies, and—by extension—Italy’s membership of the eurozone itself. As a result, a “no” vote in October will not just precipitate the fall of Renzi’s government; it could throw Italy’s long-term membership of the eurozone into doubt, plunging the single currency area once again into crisis. 

Italy’s fundamental problem is that it’s stuck in a policy no man’s land. Its old economic model, in place for much of the last three decades of the 20th century, relied on a combination of currency devaluation to maintain international competitiveness together with fiscal spending to support the poorer regions of the country’s south.

Signing up to the euro put an end to all that, preventing devaluations and prohibiting budget deficits at 10% of gross domestic product. However, the design of Italy’s bicameral parliamentary system, in which the upper and lower house—the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies—wield equal legislative power, made it almost impossible for any government to push through the structural reforms necessary for Italy to compete and prosper within the eurozone. The result has not just been depressed growth and relative impoverishment, but an outright decline in living standards as Italy’s real GDP per capita has slumped to a 20-year low.

Such a below-par economic performance has led to a build-up of bad assets on the balance sheets of Italy’s banks, where 18% of all loans are now classed as non-performing. In turn, this bad loan overhang has eroded the ability of the banking sector to extend new credit to the thousands of small businesses which are the engine of Italy’s economy and which normally power employment growth. The result is stagnation. ……..

………. All this means that the possibility of a “No” vote in Italy’s constitutional referendum ……. is the biggest clear and present danger to the euro’s survival. …… the only economic choice for Italy would be between continued stagnation, or a return to the old economic model of successive devaluations. The latter course would naturally mean exiting the eurozone anyway. ……..

…….. If Renzi wins ……. the eurozone has fresh hope. But if he fails, Italy fails—and very likely the eurozone fails too.


 

The Italian Dilemma: Weak banks and faltering domestic demand

September 22, 2016

Reblogged with permission from Focus Economics

The sudden panic about a potentially imminent Italian banking sector collapse back in July has somewhat subsided for now, but sooner or later the issue will inevitably rear its ugly head again. Two months after Italian bank stocks collapsed even further in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, fears of an imminent need for a bail-in have receded as the Italian government works on plans to shore up its weakest bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS). This will be achieved via an alternative but rather ambitious method culminating—if all goes according to plan—in a new capital injection. However, MPS, which came up short in July’s ECB stress tests, has already received capital injections in the past. Such plans to patch up banks have tended to involve kicking the can down the road rather than providing a more definitive solution to the 360 EUR billion of non-performing loans (NPLs) weighing down Italy’s banking sector, equivalent to one fifth of its GDP. If a sustainable solution is not found to clean up Italian bank balance sheets in the near future, they will inevitably constrain domestic demand and thereby weigh on the country’s already feeble growth even further.

focuseconomics_italy_economy-01.png

 

 

Domestic demand, the longstanding mainstay of the Italian economy, is already under intense pressure. In the second quarter, GDP failed to grow in quarter-on-quarter terms, primarily on the back of a broad-based deterioration in all components of domestic demand (private consumption, government consumption and fixed investment), which could not be offset by the unusually-positive contribution of the external sector to growth. The difficult climate for domestic demand in Italy is nothing new, since the austerity policies implemented in recent years have taken their toll and Italian governments have centered their efforts on trying to boost external demand instead in order to reverse the current account deficit Italy had until 2012 and keep it positive going forward. And yet private consumption has remained the main driver of Italy’s feeble economic recovery. Analysts foresee that the poorer-than-expected performance of domestic demand (especially private consumption) in the second quarter this year will be temporary, but its growth rate will nevertheless decelerate in 2017.

Our latest September Consensus Forecast for Italy, obtained by polling 37 local and international analysts, sees GDP growing a meagre 0.9% both this year and next, a figure which has in both cases been gradually revised down in recent months from the 1.2% forecasts for both years back in January. The panel are basing their growth projections primarily on modest improvements in consumer spending, albeit at a slower rate than initially expected, on the back of gradual gains in household disposable income fueled mainly by improving employment and low inflation. Domestic demand is forecast to contribute 1.1 percentage points to total growth this year (which will be dragged down slightly by a 0.2% contraction in the external sector), of which 0.7 percentage points will come from the strongest component, private consumption. In 2017, domestic demand is expected to decelerate and contribute 0.8 percentage points to growth while the external sector will pick up slightly. Of the domestic demand components, private consumption is seen remaining the main cornerstone of the tentative recovery next year, decelerating from 2016 but still contributing 0.5 percentage points to growth.

A failure to swiftly clean up bank balance sheets means domestic demand will inevitably suffer as bank credit supply constraints continue to prevent the recovery of investment. Loan-loss provisioning reduces the credit banks have available for lending, especially to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and consumers, which are perceived as risky. Arguably, analysts assessing the Italian banking sector are now most worried about the risk of chronically constrained growth rather than another systemic shock, as banks are trapped in a vicious circle whereby poor economic growth means bad loans keep growing, which in turn weigh on growth even further. The latest ECB stress tests showed that most Italian banks do have loss-absorbing capacity to withstand a theoretical three-year economic shock, but strong concerns remain about their profitability as NPLs reduce their lending ability and deter investors.

Moreover, this scenario of sustained weakness prolongs the risk of banks eventually being forced to resort to a bail-in. A recapitalization of the banking sector involving substantial losses for retail investors would strongly hit consumer confidence and spending, the backbone of Italy‘s economy, which analysts we surveyed foresee as remaining essential to its fragile recovery. For a country whose already weak economic growth is heavily dependent on domestic demand, this would therefore bode disaster, and not only for the individual citizens with affected bond holdings.

Italy’s banking sector woes

The Italian government is desperate to avoid any need for a bail-in, especially after the politically disastrous bail-ins of a handful of small regional banks last year. In this context, it has sought to reassure the markets that individual critical cases of weakness are contained and new capital can be raised without the need for individual investors to take a hit. But exactly how the overwhelming quantity of NPLs in the Italian banking sector will be dealt with is still far from clear. Italian banks have only made provisions to cover just under half of the 360 EUR billion NPLs weighing down their bank balance sheets, of which 201 EUR billion are already estimated by the IMF to be bad loans that will be irrecoverable. Plans such as that affecting MPS, where NPLs are to be offloaded into a securitization vehicle in an attempt to sell them to investors, would seem to be in line with the IMF’s recommendation that Italy build a robust market in NPLs. And yet many analysts consider such ambitions rather wishful thinking, especially since most of the bad loans on Italian bank balance sheets are uncollateralized loans to small businesses and consumers (in contrast to the mortgage NPLs that dominated Spanish and Irish bank balance sheets during their time of stress), and specialist NPL buyers tend to be more attracted to loans with easily recoverable, tangible collateral.

Moreover, if Italy is to create a functioning NPL market, banks will need to accept significant write-downs on their loans compared to their current book value. There is a sizeable discrepancy between banks’ valuations of the NPLs and the price they would get for them if they attempted to sell off the loans to specialist distressed debt players, which will create yet more of a gaping hole on bank balance sheets. The small private Atlante fund and its successor Atlante 2, set up by the Italian government to help participate in distressed banks’ recapitalization and also to buy NPLs from banks, are unlikely to be anywhere near large enough to resolve these problems.

To complicate matters further, holdings of bank bonds by retail investors are exceptionally high due to the longstanding practice in the country of selling (or rather mis-selling) bank bonds to ordinary citizens. An IMF report published back in July calculated that retail investors own about one third of around 600 EUR billion of senior bank bonds and nearly half of an estimated 60 EUR billion of subordinated bonds on the balance sheets of Italy’s 15 largest banks. Under the bail-in requirement of the EU’s Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive (BRRD) in force since the start of this year, at least 8% of a failing bank’s total liabilities must be written off before state aid can be requested, if the EU enforces strict adherence to the rules (the Italian government has been investigating every possible loophole in case). In Italy, the IMF estimates that this requirement would hit the majority of subordinated bond holdings by retail investors in the fifteen largest banks and that it would also hit some of their senior debt holdings in two thirds of those cases.

After the experiences of massive publically-funded bank bailouts in countries such as the UK, Ireland and Spain during the height of the financial crisis, the whole idea behind the BRRD was to break the link between banking and sovereign risk and to stop putting taxpayers on the hook for private banking sector failures, making bank bondholders pay instead. But this assumes that the bondholders are institutional investors, and fails to take account of the specific circumstances of countries such as Italy where retail investors risk having their holdings wiped out too. In Italy’s case, many of the bank bondholders at risk are ordinary citizens and taxpayers, who were mis-sold bank debt as if it were as safe as placing their money in a savings account but with the added benefit of a much higher interest rate. In fact, retail investors are likely to be disproportionately affected compared to institutional investors, since individual citizens are usually sold more risky subordinated debt rather than its safer senior counterpart.

Reviving the risk of recession?

Unless concrete plans for how to create a functioning NPL market are devised, it is unclear how banks that need to recapitalize will be able to do so without ultimately ending up hurting at least some of their equity and subordinated debt holders. For a country where consumer spending is the cornerstone of an already weak recovery, imposing losses on retail investors, if they are not somehow exempted, would risk dampening consumer confidence to the extent that this could in itself push the country back into recession. This is before the wider downside risk implications of a struggling banking sector are even taken into consideration. Even if a bail-in remains avoidable, if banks are forced to use their own precious reserves to increase loan-loss provisions and capital buffers in the absence of any substantial state aid injection, this risks prolonging the Catch-22 of poor growth leading to a weak banking sector and vice versa.   

Author: Caroline Gray, Senior Economics Editor

Date: September 19, 2016


 

Secession is in the air as 89% vote for the rebirth of the Venetian Republic

March 23, 2014

Secession is in the air.

The Most Serene Republic of Venice (Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia) lasted for over a thousand years from the late 7th century until 1797. It came into being as a secession of the region from the Byzantine Empire and lasted until Napoleon came along. In its heyday it controlled Crete and Cyprus and was a major – if not the paramount – centre for European trading and banking. 

Secession is in the blood of Venetians.

File:Flag of Most Serene Republic of Venice.svg

Flag of Venice with winged Lion of St. Mark

History of Venice:

The city of Venice originated as a collection of lagoon communities banded together for mutual defence from theLombards, Huns and other invading peoples as the power of the Western Roman Empire dwindled in northern Italy. At some point in the first decades of the 8th century, the people of the Byzantine province of Venice elected their first leaderUrsus (or Orso Ipato), who was confirmed by Constantinople and given the titles of hypatus and dux. He was the first historical Doge of Venice. …..

Between 1414 and 1423, some 10,000 slaves were sold in Venice, almost all of whom were “nubile” young women from the Balkans. In February 1489, the island of Cyprus, previously a crusader state (the Kingdom of Cyprus), was annexed to Venice.

And  now the people of Veneto want to secede again – this time from “the blood-thirsty beast of the Italian state”.

The Veneto Region

EU Observer:

A self-organised “referendum” over the independence of one of Italy’s wealthiest regions has resulted in an overwhelming victory for the separatist camp, but authorities in Rome have largely ignored the result, amid scepticism over the regularity of the informal, non-binding poll. 

Nevertheless, events in Veneto, the north-eastern region around Venice that is home to almost 5 million people, have attracted international attention, particularly from government-sponsored Russian media, keen to draw comparisons with the military-backed vote that sanctioned Moscow’s annexation of Crimea. 

Out of 3.8 million eligible voters, 2.3 million took part in Veneto’s independence “plebiscite,” organisers said Friday, after six days of voting through makeshift polling booths, via phone or the internet. The pro-secession camp was declared the winner with over 89 percent, against just under 11 percent for the unionists. 

“The Venetian Republic is born again,” the leader of the ‘yes’ camp, Gianluca Busato, exclaimed at a victory rally in Treviso, in front of a crowd of a few hundred supporters. …… Secessionists, who are not attached to any mainstream political party, see themselves as the heirs of the Most Serene Republic of Venice, the state that ruled the lagoon city and its surroundings for about 1,000 years, until it was routed by Napoleon in 1797. 

Their main argument for independence is economic. They calculate that Veneto subsidizes Italy’s inefficient central government and its poorer southern regions to the tune of €20 billion a year. They claim that an independent state – modeled on the likes of Catalonia or Scotland – would be far better off. “The right of self-determination that is triumphing in Veneto is the only way to free ourselves from the worst bureaucratic monster of the Western world. The blood-thirsty beast of the Italian state is hated by all of its subjects, everywhere,” Busato said. 

The 44-year-old software entrepreneur was elected as one of 10 “delegates” tasked with setting independence plans into motion. “The first objective is to keep all taxes in Veneto,” he said. “Veneto’s businesses and citizens no longer have to pay immoral and illegitimate taxes to the Italian state.”

File:Repubblica di Venezia.png

Republic of Venice territories in red c. 1500 CE

RIP: Augusto Odone – creator of Lorenzo’s oil

October 26, 2013

Augusto Odone, a former World Bank economist who challenged the world’s medical establishment and created Lorenzo’s Oil has died in Italy aged 80,

The story of Lorenzo’s Oil is now well enough known (and not least because of the 1992  film). Augusto Odone’s effort is the ultimate example of Citizen Science prevailing over Big Science, of a lone, non-establishment individual battling, persevering and triumphing over an establishment view.

Augusto Odone with his son Lorenzo

Augusto Odone refused to accept medical opinion that his son Lorenzo would die in childhood – BBC

And it is becoming increasingly obvious that Big Science, whether in Medicine or in Physics or in Climate Change suffers from the fundamental weakness which results from a massive inertia which prevents the non-establishment view from surfacing. Consensus Science smothers creativity and ingenuity.

“Bribes are necessary” – Berlusconi; but he does hit a nerve.

February 18, 2013

Bunga-bunga Berlusconi is at it again!

But he is describing a reality which applies not only in 3rd world and developing countries but also in the EU and Japan and the rest of the “developed” world.

This time he was reacting to a string of corruption cases in Italy culminating in the arrest of the Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi for involvement in bribes allegedly paid to Indian government officials to secure a helicopter contract. This follows ENI’s CEO Paolo Scaroni being investigated for alleged bribes paid by its Saipem subsidiary to win contracts in Algeria.

From the FT:

Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has defended the need for bribery in winning contracts for Italy’s multinationals, as politicians campaigning in general elections have been forced to respond to a welter of corruption scandals revolving around the nexus of politics and business.

“Bribes are a phenomenon that exists and it’s useless to deny the existence of these necessary situations when you are negotiating with third world countries and regimes,” Mr Berlusconi, leader of a centre-right coalition and seeking his fourth stint in office, said on Thursday.

“These are not crimes,” said Mr Berlusconi, describing payments as “commissions”. He also defended state-controlled energy group Eni, whose chief executive Paolo Scaroni is under investigation for alleged bribes paid by its Saipem subsidiary to win contracts in Algeria. Mr Scaroni denies the allegations.

Corruption generally takes two forms:

  1. According to rule: Where a bribe is paid for preferential treatment  in an otherwise lawful process (i.e. to be preferred over a competitor, to have an application approved “out of turn”  or generally for the facilitation of a lawful process in favour of the briber)
  2. Against the rule: Where a consideration is provided to obtain some service that the receiver is not legally authorised to provide (i.e. to a judge for a favourable judgement or to a policeman to not do his bounden duty or to a Professor to pass a failing student).

For both the cases above of Finmeccanica and ENI, the corruption alleged is primarily of the “According to Rule” type. In the first Finmeccanica’s subsidiary Augusta-Westland apparently payed bribes totalling some €51 million to first have specifications altered so that they could bid and then paid bribes for preferential evaluation during technical trials where the trials themselves were tailored to suit their product. The value of the helicopter contract is about €480 million. In the ENI case, CEO Scaroni apparently arranged to pay some €197 million through a Hong Kong company who then paid bribes to Algerian officials to win Sonatrach and other Algerian contracts for their Saipem subsidiary. The contract values add up to some €8.5 billion.

In the Finmeccanica case the “bribes” make up some 10.6% of the contract value whereas for the ENI case the alleged bribes amount to some 2.4% of the contract value. This difference is itself interesting. Profit margins in energy contracts (oil and gas pipelines or equipment or power plants and power equipment)  are generally significantly lower than in defence contracts. Certainly in the power industry – from my own experience – “consultancy” and “agent” contracts – always ostensibly for the supply of specific services – were considered to be at an “acceptable” and justifiable level if they amounted to less than than about 3% of the contract value in a contract with a profit margin of something less than 10% and typically around 7 – 8%. This suggests to me that the helicopter contract probably has a true profit margin of around 25% with a visible margin of around 15% after paying the “commissions” and “software consultancy contracts” of around 10%.

This is bad enough but there is a particular kind of case where I am a little less certain of what the correct and ethical course of action is. I have seen many cases where the “bribe” is effectively structured as a kind of ” private tax” applying to whoever the winner is. A sort of level playing field as regards bribes.

It is made clear to all bidders that the bidder with the lowest visible evaluated price will win. But it is also made clear – privately – to all bidders that there is a minimum “commission” payment  – usually expressed as a percentage – which will apply. The bidder who makes the best (highest) private bid above this minimum also receives the largest amount of “support” during the evaluation procedure  to be able to declare his bid L1 (lowest evaluated price). The highest bribe-bidder does not necessarily win if his product/bid are not quite good enough to also achieve the lowest evaluated price.

The real question for a CEO then becomes:
“Should I decline to bid and jeopardise jobs – and profits – at my own factories, or join the prevailing game and pay the lowest possible bribe I can?”

And by the way – it is not only 3rd world and developing countries where this dilemma appears. And anybody who thinks this does not happen every day in the EU is living in a fantasy. Not least in the area of public procurement.

Facebook copies social networking concept from 600 years ago

January 21, 2013

The Facebook concept was anticipated some 600 years ago.

A collaborative research project is ongoing between Royal Holloway, University of London, the British Library and Reading University, in which a team of academics are cataloguing and investigating the works of the Italian Academies, dating from 1525 to 1700.One of the major outcomes of the project is a comprehensive database of information on Academies from across the Italian peninsula, detailing their membership and publications. This is publicly accessible through the British Library on-line catalogue

Learned Academies represent a vital and characteristic dimension of early modern culture. There were ca. 600 Academies in Italy in the period 1525-1700. In the 16th and 17th centuries the Italian Academies were responsible for promoting debate and discussion in many different disciplines from language and literature, through the visual and performing arts to science, technology, medicine and astronomy.

And the researchers have also found that scholars at the Italian Academies were networking socially with satirical nicknames while sharing comments on topical events and exchanging poems and plays and music.

The project provides information about the academies, their members, publications, activities and emblems. Researchers were surprised to realise just how similar the activities of these sixteenth and seventeenth century scholars were with society today. 

Professor Jane Everson, Principal-investigator, said: “Just as we create user names for our profiles on Facebook and Twitter and create circles of friends on Google plus, these scholars created nicknames, shared – and commented on – topical ideas, the news of the day, and exchanged poems, plays and music. It may have taken a little longer for this to be shared without the internet, but through the creation of yearbooks and volumes of letters and speeches, they shared the information of the day.” 

The scholars created satirical names for their academies such as Gelati  and Intronati. Professor Everson explains: “They are jokey names, which really mean the opposite of what they say. Intronati has nothing to do with thrones; it means dazed, stunned, knocked out and so not able to think straight – but really the Intronati were engaged in serious study, debates, dramatic performances and the like from the moment they were founded in the 1520s – and they are still as active as ever in their home city of Siena. The Gelati were not going around singing just one cornetto. Gelati means the frozen ones – so a pun on the fact that these academicians far from being totally inactive through being frozen cold, were busy debating, exploring ideas, challenging received opinions and changing the cultural world of their home city of Bologna, and indeed of Italy and far beyond.”

Just as the names of the academies and the nicknames of the individual members were fun, so are the emblems and mottos which illustrate the name of the academy. The scholars took great delight in creating puzzling emblems with hidden meanings. Professor Everson adds: “They do sometimes take some working out, but it is great fun when you can see the hidden meanings in the images.”  

Further twists in the Italian manslaughter trial of seismologists

February 21, 2012
L'Aquila house ruin

A panel of seismologists who met just days before the 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila, Italy are on trial over their reassurances to the public. WOLFANGO VIA FLICKR UNDER CREATIVE COMMONS.

Back in September when this trial for manslaughter began, many rushed to the defence of the scientists being indicted as being an “attack on science”. I wrote then that indictments for incompetence or negligence or even gross negligence by scientists  should not be confused with being an indictment of the scientific method. Scientists are in a privileged position but that does not mean that they cannot be liable for their incompetence. As the trial lumbers on it becomes clearer that there was indeed some considerable incompetence involved. Now Nature reports that a Californian scientist and earthquake expert is testifying against the defendents:

….. The hearing also included some true scientific debate when Lalliana Mualchin, former chief seismologist for the Department of Transportation in California, testified as an expert witness for the prosecution. In 2010, when news about the indictment broke, Mualchin was among the few experts who openly criticized — and refused to sign — a letter supporting the indicted seismologists signed by about 5,000 international scientists.

(more…)

Berlusconi bungas while Italy burns

November 7, 2011
CONSTANTINE PALACE, STRELNA. Italian Prime Min...

Image via Wikipedia

Il Cavaliere , Sylvio “bunga-bunga” Berlusconi is 75 years old, has a personal fortune of some $9billion, and has been Italy’s Prime Minister for longer than anyone else. He is clinging desperately to power as Italy slides towards a Greece-like crevice and it is not apparent as to why he bothers. Whereas the Greek debt is only about 4% of Eurozone debt, Italy’s debt is closer to 20%. Italy’s public debt in 2010 was 118.4% of GDP. The annual budget deficit was 4.6% of GDP. Italy’s public debt-to-GDP ratio is the second highest in the euro zone after Greece’s, while its debt in absolute terms, which stood at 1.84 trillion euros at the end of 2010, is second to Germany’s.

It might seem to be just a powerful politician in denial of the approaching flames when Berlusconi declares that “Life in Italy is good. The restaurants are full. It’s difficult to get a seat on a plane they’re so busy; holidays are all booked up”.

(more…)

The strange story of the San Raffaele Research Institute, Don Verzé, the Vatican, corruption and a suicide!

October 18, 2011

This is a very strange tale of a prestigious Italian bio-medical Research Institute, a strange priest, tons of money, huge debts, corruption, a suicide, the Vatican and – of course – links to Berlusconi.

It reads like a film script and a subject worthy of a Dan Brown blockbuster.

Alison Abbott writes in Nature:

One of Italy’s most prestigious biomedical research centres now faces bankruptcy, against a backdrop of rumours fed by intrigue among power-brokers, allegations of fraud and corruption, and a violent death. Next week, a court will decide whether to leave the Milan-based San Raffaele Scientific Institute to its fate, or allow a consortium led by the Vatican Bank to rescue it. (more…)

Piracy increasing off the West African coast

July 24, 2011

AFP reports that another Italian tanker has been seized by pirates off the coast of Benin.  It remains inexplicable to me in this world of satellite navigation and GPS and Rapid Reaction Forces and instant news that piracy can still not only continue but actually flourish.  

Why do I wonder if the insurance industries actually come out of this with increased profits??

AFP: Cotonou -Pirates seized an Italian tanker with a crew of 23 off Benin in the Gulf of Guinea Sunday, the Benin navy said. Navy commander Maxime Ahoyo told AFP that after receiving distress signals from the vessel, the navy sent two patrol boats in pursuit of the pirates. “We are closely monitoring the situation,” he added.

Three pirates managed to board the ship 23 nautical miles south of Cotonou (AFP/Graphic)

Earlier, the Italian news agency ANSA first reported the capture of the Rbd Anema e Core and its crew comprising 20 Filipino seamen, two Italians and a Romanian captain. It said three pirates managed to board the ship, which was carrying fuel, 23 nautical miles south of Cotonou, the economic capital of Benin. Italy’s foreign ministry said its crisis unit was in touch with the Naples-based shipowner and following the situation closely.

Italy stepped up its measures against piracy earlier in July, clearing commercial ships sailing through dangerous waters to use private security guards or soldiers for protection. It is not clear whether the Rbd Anema e Core was carrying armed guards. Pirates have seized several Italian boats over the last few years. Earlier this month, a Greek oil tanker hijacked by gunmen off the coast of Nigeria was released along with its 20-strong crew. The Liberian-flagged oil tanker Aegean Star owned by Endeavour Marine Agency was returning to the Ghanaian port of Tema. On April 21 Somali pirates captured an Italian cargo ship headed for Iran with 21 crew members on board, including six Italians, in the Arabian Sea near Oman. In February, pirates wielding rocket-launchers seized a large Italian oil tanker with a crew of five Italians and 17 Indians east off the Yemeni island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean.

 


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