Italian man ‘offered €10,000 in Bitcoin’ to maim ex-partner

Investigators in Rome have placed under house arrest a man who they say paid an attacker over the dark web to maim his ex-girlfriend.

The suspect is accused of offering €10,000 (£8,700; $12,000) in Bitcoin in return for the attack, which would have paralysed the woman, police said.

He was traced by Italian authorities and the EU’s crime agency and the woman was unharmed.

The would-be attacker has not been identified.

What is the man accused of?

“It looks like the plot of a contemporary thriller,” Italy’s Postal and Communication Police said in a statement.

The suspect, a 40-year-old IT expert from the northern region of Lombardy, is alleged to have gone on the dark web some months after his relationship broke down in July 2020.

Police said he contacted an intermediary via a website on the dark web, seeking to hire an attacker to throw acid at his ex-girlfriend’s face and to break her back, leaving her paralysed.

Despite having made the first of four payments to the would-be attacker, the suspect remained in contact with his intended victim, sending her flowers and messages, according to police.

Italian news agency Adnkronos quoted the arrest warrant as saying that the attack was to be staged to look like a robbery.

The suspect, who had been in a two-year relationship with the woman, had passed on her home address and Facebook profile, the news agency added.

How was he traced?

Italian authorities said they were alerted after messages from the suspect were intercepted by police from another European country in February.

The request had been placed through the Tor network – privacy-focused software used to access the dark web while often obscuring users and data. 

However, EU crime agency Europol said it was able to carry out “an urgent, complex crypto-analysis to enable the tracing and identification” of the Bitcoin provider, based in Italy.

Italian police were then able to get hold of further details about the suspect from the crypto-currency provider. 

The suspect’s home in Milan was searched at the end of February, according to Italian media, and as the search unfolded he is then said to have called off the attack via his computer.

He is currently under house arrest, charged with aggravated harassment and attempted personal injury, reports say

Giorgio Armani could consider an Italian partner: Magazine

MILAN (Reuters) – Giorgio Armani may consider a joint venture with another Italian company, the founder of the Milanese fashion house told U.S. magazine Vogue, opening the door for the first time to a potential business partner.

In an interview published on the vogue.com website, Armani, 86, said the COVID-19 emergency had “made us open our eyes a bit.”

Armani ruled out going the way of many other Italian luxury goods brands, including Gucci, Fendi and Bulgari, which have been bought by industry giants LVMH and Kering SA, saying a French buyer was not on the cards.

However, he said his long-held idea that the company should remain independent was no longer “so strictly necessary.”

“One could think of a liaison with an important Italian company,” he said without elaborating, except to add that it did not have to be a fashion company.

Vogue also quoted Armani’s niece Roberta Armani, who works at the family’s company, as saying “it could be great, finally, to have an important Made in Italy joint venture in the fashion industry” though she added she had no insight on her uncle’s plans.

Google signs news content deals with Italian publishers

Alphabet Inc’s Google has sealed its first licence agreements in Italy with several publishers to offer access to some of their content on the U.S. tech group’s Showcase news platform.

Google News Showcase is a global product to pay news publishers for their content online and a new service that allows partnering publishers to curate content and provide limited access to paywalled stories for users.

Showcase is expected to launch in Italy in the coming weeks, a media representative for Google in Italy told Reuters.

News publishers have long fought the world’s most popular internet search engine for compensation for using their content, with European media groups leading the charge.

Google said in October it planned to pay $1 billion to publishers globally for their news over the next three years via Showcase, which will launch first in Germany, then in Belgium, India, the Netherlands and other countries.

Google’s agreements were signed with a number of Italian publishers, including RCS Mediagroup, which publishes daily Corriere della Sera as well as popular sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport, the publisher of financial daily Il Sole 24 ore and Caltagirone editore, which owns Rome-based paper Il Messaggero.

No financial details were disclosed.

The accords involve 13 Italian editorial companies, giving Google Showcase users access to content from 76 national and local papers.

The U.S. tech group has sealed similar deals with other news outlets around the world, including in Germany, Brazil and in Britain.

“We are pleased to have reached this agreement which, by also regulating the issue of related rights, recognises the importance of quality information and the authority of our publications,” RCS Chief Executive Urbano Cairo said in a statement.

RCS said the deal with Google also included the Spanish-language papers owned by the group – El Mundo, Marca and Expansion.

The accord could potentially pave the way for a resumption of the U.S. company’s news service in Spain, which was shut down in 2014 in response to legislation which meant it had to pay a mandatory collective licensing fee to re-publish headlines or snippets of news.

Authorities around the world have been introducing rules to require Google, Facebook and others to share revenue with publishers, including a 2019 directive from Brussels which European Union countries are meant to enact into law by June.

Both Italy and Spain still have to implement the new EU rules.

“We hope parliament will address the issue soon”, Fabrizio Carotti, general director at Italy’s news publisher business lobby FIEG told Reuters.

“In our view, the law should give the national competition regulator the power to determine the criteria to establish how much online platforms have to pay for content in case of no agreement with publishers, helping editorial companies in their negotiations”, Carotti said.

Pandemic leaves digital laggard Italy scrambling to catch up

MILAN (Reuters) – Small Italian car filter supplier Ecofiltri took out a state-backed loan last year, just like thousands of other businesses fighting to keep afloat during the pandemic.

But instead of burning through the cash to pay overdue rent and bills, Ecofiltri is investing the money on a technological revamp of its business. Already facing a longer-term switch to electric transport, the company was spurred to act after the virus crisis cut the number of drivers on the road.

“We’ve expanded our facilities, bought high-tech equipment and even created an R&D department where we are working on three projects we hope we can patent to provide more intelligent products and services,” Ecofiltri co-founder Simone Scafetta told Reuters over a video call.

Italy ranked fourth to last in the EU for digital competitiveness in 2019, according to the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI). By forcing a huge technological acceleration on the country, the pandemic is offering Italy a one-off chance to boost its feeble productivity and economic growth.

For a graphic on DESI index 2020:

Reuters Graphic

Faster economic expansion is essential for Rome to sustain the world’s third-largest public debt which the pandemic has inflated to 1.6 times gross domestic product (GDP).

Research by Milan’s Politecnico University shows Italy could add 1.9 percentage points a year on average to its GDP growth if its small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) bridged a 40% gap versus Spanish peers measured by indicators ranging from e-commerce capabilities or electronic invoicing to use of big data.

“But the trick only works if businesses switch from a (crisis-driven) reactive approach to technology to a strategic one, and the environment where they operate evolves with them,” said Giorgia Sali who heads Politecnico’s research hub on SMEs and digital innovation.

For a graphic on DESI Index Connectivity:

Reuters Graphic

Italy estimates its businesses in recent years fell behind the rest of Europe in terms of digital investment by an amount roughly equal to 2 percentage points of GDP.

The pandemic has brought a welcome shift, with 86% of Italian respondents in a survey of mid- to large-sized firms commissioned by Dell Technologies saying they sped up digital transformation plans in 2020, above a 75% European average.

“The pandemic has forced Italian companies to confront the country’s huge digital gap,” said Francesca Moriani, CEO of IT services provider VAR Group, adding Europe as a whole lags the United States and China.

The euro zone’s digital economy is only two-thirds the size of that in the United States.Slideshow ( 2 images )

Encouragingly, 92% of SMEs polled by VAR Group expect to invest in digital capacity in the next two years, despite the blow to sales from the pandemic.

RECOVERY FUNDS

Italy’s digital deficit has a number of roots.

In a country where broadband access is below the EU average, large companies which can sustain programmes of technological investment make up only a tiny proportion of businesses.

Many firms are family-owned and run, meaning they tend to lack managers with the right skills to lead a digital transformation.

A European Central Bank study also highlighted funding constraints when businesses rely mostly on bank financing like in Italy, saying traditional lenders often struggle to evaluate the risk involved in projects based on complex technologies.

Add to that an ageing population, and a very low share of ICT graduates – around 5,000 a year compared with around 18,000 in smaller Spain, according to Eurostat figures here – and Italy has fallen behind in the digital race.

To support the adoption of cutting-edge technologies by its companies and ultra high-speed connectivity, Rome has earmarked 46 billion euros in yet-to-be disbursed EU recovery funds for digital investments.

It also offers tax breaks to firms seeking to boost digital spending and appointed former Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao as its technology czar to oversee efforts in coming years.

Like in Greece, the modernisation push also targets public services which Ecofiltri’s Scafetta said set a bad example.

“We’ve given our staff palmtops and screens to share information non-stop and interact with customers … people don’t add value by walking next door to carry paper documents, like you see state employees do,” he said.

Located in the central Abruzzo region, Ecofiltri has found success by developing a process which gives a second life to diesel particulate filters.

To fund its projects, which include sensors to more easily detect issues with its filters and a digital warehouse management system to feed information to its website and liaise with e-sellers such as Amazon, Ecofiltri last September borrowed 100,000 euros from Credimi, a fintech lending firm.

Credimi says digital innovation is an important driver of credit demand it faces from SMEs.

“With a few exceptions, the pandemic has caught small- and mid-sized Italian businesses unprepared, sending them scrambling to catch up with digital progress,” Fabio Troiani, CEO Italy and Global digital services at Milan-based BIP Consulting, said.

“For some it’s become a matter of life and death.”

FALLING FURTHER BEHIND

Many smaller Italian businesses are rising to the challenge.

The share of SMEs using e-commerce in 2020 rose 50% to a third of the total, as first-time e-shoppers surged by 2 million during a nationwide lockdown last spring, according to data by Politecnico and e-commerce lobby Netcomm.

For a graphic on SMEs selling online:

Reuters Graphic

Politecnico data also point to a 42% jump in cloud services for SMEs as remote workers increased by 11.5 times to 6.6 million.

So far, Italian government programmes aimed at fostering digital investments have been mostly taken up by larger companies.

The challenge is to bring onboard companies like Ecofiltri, which is one of more than 4 million Italian businesses with fewer than 10 staff, or 95% of the total.

Small firms find it hard to attract people with the necessary skills in a country where ICT graduates make up only 1% of the total, the lowest in the EU, contributing to Italy scoring last in the DESI human capital index.

“It wasn’t easy but we’ve brought in an engineer and the next person we hire must also be an engineer or they wouldn’t fit our development plans,” Scafetta said.

Diego Ciulli, senior public policy manager at Google, warned that a failure to fill Italy’s digital gap when consumers globally have turned to online channels would be more than a missed opportunity.

“The real risk is falling further behind,” he said.

“If Italian wine producers wait for trade exhibitions to resume to find new foreign customers, while French ones get really good at selling their wine online you don’t just lose a chance to grow, you lose market share.”

Covid: Italy ‘blocks’ AstraZeneca vaccine shipment to Australia

The Italian government has blocked the export of an Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine shipment to Australia, according to Italian media reports.

The decision affects 250,000 doses of the vaccine produced at an AstraZeneca facility in Italy.

The move has been backed by the European Commission, the reports say.

The news comes amid a row between EU officials and the company, which has provided only a fraction of the agreed supply to member states.

Under the EU vaccine scheme, which was established in June last year, the bloc has negotiated the purchase of vaccines on behalf of member states.

In January, the then Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte described delays in vaccine supplies by both AstraZeneca and Pfizer as “unacceptable” and accused the companies of violating their contracts.

Source: BBC

Italian ambassador to DR Congo killed in UN convoy attack

Italy’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo has been killed in an attack in the east of the country, its foreign ministry has said.

Luca Attanasio, 43, died in hospital on Monday after the United Nations convoy he was travelling in came under fire near Goma, a statement said.

The convoy reportedly belonged to the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP).

An Italian military police officer travelling with the envoy and a Congolese driver were also killed.

“It is with deep sadness that the foreign ministry confirms the death, today in Goma, of the Italian ambassador,” the ministry’s statement said.

The attack in North Kivu province is believed to have been an attempted kidnapping, according to officials at the nearby Virunga National Park.

What do we know about the attack?

Mr Attanasio was a passenger in one of two vehicles travelling about 15km (nine miles) north of Goma when the attack happened on Monday morning. 

The vehicles were “ambushed by a group of six attackers, who fired warning shots before taking all the passengers into the Virunga National Park”, the governor of North Kivu province, Carly Nzanzu, told the BBC.

Peacekeepers secure the scene where the Italian ambassador to Democratic Republic of Congo, Luca Attanasio, was killed in Ruhimba village
image captionSecurity forces guard the area where the attack took place on Monday morning

“That’s when a patrol of Virunga National Park rangers intervened and managed to free four people,” he said.

“Unfortunately, before they ran away, the assailants shot the ambassador and his bodyguard, and they killed the Congolese driver at the start of the attack,” the governor added.

Congolese general speaks to Monusco officer in Virunga national park - 22 February
image captionVirunga is regarded as one of the most dangerous parks in Africa

The WFP said Mr Attanasio was travelling from Goma to visit a “schools programme” in the village of Rutshuru in eastern DR Congo.

The attack… occurred on a road that had previously been cleared for travel without security escorts,” the Rome-based agency said in a statement.

The two other fatalities were military police officer Vittorio Iacovacci, 30, who had been serving at the embassy since last September, and their Congolese driver, whose name has not yet been officially released.

A number of other passengers were reportedly injured.

Map

It is not clear who was behind the attack, but the interior ministry has accused a Hutu rebel group known as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). 

Many armed groups are known to operate in and around the park and militias clash regularly in the east of the country, where a large UN force is struggling to keep the peace.

The DRC army has deployed troops to help search the area.

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Questions over apparent security lapse

Analysis by Emery Makumeno, BBC News, Kinshasa 

Mr Attanasio is the first ambassador to be killed in the country since French ambassador Philippe Bernard was shot dead during riots in the capital, Kinshasa, in 1997.

Normally, aid convoys travelling in eastern DR Congo are heavily guarded by UN troops, and questions are bound to be asked about the level of security that Mr Attanasio’s convoy had.

He was travelling in the east – the most unstable part of DR Congo. Many local armed groups – as well as those from Rwanda, Burundi, the Central African Republic (CAR) and Uganda – have established themselves in the region over the last 25 years. 

The attack highlights the fact that stability to the region will return only if a solution is found to political issues in all these countries.

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What has the reaction been?

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi issued a statement offering his “deepest condolences”, while President Sergio Mattarella condemned the “cowardly attack”.

Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio expressed his “great shock and immense sorrow” at the “brutal” killings.

“Today Italy mourns the loss of two of its sons and embraces their families,” he said, adding: “No effort will be spared to shed light on what happened.” 

DR Congo’s Foreign Minister, Marie Tumba Nzeza, said an investigation into the killings was under way. 

Mr Attanasio had represented Italy in the DR Congo since 2017. He joined the diplomatic service in 2003 and spent time in Morocco and Nigeria.

What is the situation in DR Congo?

DR Congo was for many years at the centre of a brutal civil war that drew in several neighbouring countries. 

The conflict led to the loss of some five million lives between 1994 and 2003, with some observers branding it Africa’s Great War.

But the end of the conflict did not mark an end to the violence. Dozens of militias and rebel groups continue to operate in eastern areas.

The UN’s peacekeeping mission has been in DR Congo since 1999. It is one of the biggest peacekeeping operations in the world, with more than 17,000 personnel on the ground.

Virunga – which stretches across 7,800 sq km (3,000 sq miles) – is one of the most dangerous parks on the continent.

In 2018, a ranger was killed and three people – including two British tourists – were kidnapped when their vehicle was ambushed in the Virunga National Park. Those kidnapped were later released

Former Google executive to run Italy’s TIM new cloud unit

Former Google executive Carlo d’Asaro Biondo has been appointed as Chief executive officer of Telecom Italia’s (TIM) newly-created cloud unit Noovle, Italy’s biggest phone group said on Monday.

The creation of the new company is part of the former phone monopoly’s strategy to boost and diversify its revenues, providing services to businesses and state-controlled offices looking to improve their digital reach.

D’Asaro Biondo, who has been Google’s president for EMEA partnerships, joined the former phone monopoly last year after TIM struck a deal with the tech giant to expand its cloud business in the country.

Noovle, which is targeting 1 billion euros in revenues by 2024, will operate a network of 17 data centres across the country and will be in charge of building six new top tier data center facilities, TIM said.

Source: Digicountz

Italy consumer association sues Apple for planned iPhone obsolescence

Italian consumer association Altroconsumo said on Monday it had told Apple it has launched a class action against the U.S. tech giant for the practice of planned obsolescence.

In a statement Altroconsumo said it was asking for damages of 60 million euros ($73 million) on behalf of Italian consumers tricked by the practice which had also been recognised by Italian authorities.

Altroconsumo said the lawsuit covers owners of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, 6S and 6S Plus, sales of which in Italy totalled some 1 million phones between 2014 and 2020.

Apple said in an email that it had never done anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades.

Two similar lawsuits against Apple have been filed in Belgium and Spain for the planned obsolescence of iPhones.

European consumer association Euroconsumers, which is coordinating the three lawsuits, said it was also planning to launch a class action in Portugal in the coming weeks.

By: Kwamed2k

Italy PM Conte wins crucial Senate vote to stay in power

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has won a crucial vote to stay in power – days after former PM Matteo Renzi pulled his party out of the coalition.

The vote in the Senate – 156-140, with 16 abstentions – means, however, that Mr Conte does not have an absolute majority in the upper chamber.

Opposition parties say they plan to ask President Sergio Mattarella to intervene to force him to resign.

Mr Conte, a law professor, has led a centrist coalition since 2018.

The main parties in his coalition are the anti-establishment Five Star (M5S) and the centre-left Democratic Party (PD).

The prime minister told the Senate it was vital to maintain political cohesion faced with the “historic challenge” of the pandemic.

Speaking in the Senate debate, Mr Renzi told Mr Conte to make bolder reforms, saying “Italy is wasting its biggest opportunity since the Marshall Plan” – a reference to the US aid for war-shattered Europe in 1948. He accused Mr Conte of being preoccupied with distributing government posts.

Matteo Renzi, file picture 1 Feb 2020
image captionMatteo Renzi has had various policy battles in Mr Conte’s coalition

Even if Mr Conte had lost the vote, a snap election was not a certainty as President Mattarella still has the option of inviting him to assemble a new coalition.

On Monday he won a confidence vote in the Chamber of Deputies – the lower house – by 321 to 259, securing an absolute majority there.

Mr Renzi objects to Mr Conte’s plans for spending €209bn (£186bn; $254bn) of EU recovery funds – part of a €750bn EU rescue for the Covid crisis.

The former prime minister wants investment in the digital economy and green energy, and rejects Mr Conte’s plan to let technocrats, rather than MPs, decide spending priorities.https://emp.bbc.com/emp/SMPj/2.36.7/iframe.htmlmedia caption”We risked everything to survive” – Naples resident Filomena

Italy has had plenty of minority governments before, but that outcome would leave Mr Conte weaker at a time of national emergency, with Italians struggling under partial lockdown.

Addressing senators, Mr Conte said: “It’s very hard to govern in these conditions, with people who continuously place mines in our path and try to undermine the political balance patiently reached by the coalition”.

Italy has recorded 82,554 deaths linked to coronavirus – the second-highest official toll in Europe after the UK. It has more than 25,000 patients in hospital with Covid-19.

Italy was the epicentre of the pandemic in Europe last March, and its tranche of the new EU recovery package is the largest.

Mr Renzi’s Italia Viva, formed in 2019, polls less than 3% currently, and surveys suggest that right-wing parties would come top in a snap election, were one to be called two years ahead of schedule.

Victory, but no resolution

Analysis box by Mark Lowen, Rome correspondent

Giuseppe Conte has survived – for now. But this is not the strong sign of parliamentary backing that he wanted.

If he continues as prime minister, it would mean each legislative move would need horse-trading and negotiations in the Senate. And that at the very worst time, in the grip of a pandemic that has killed more than 83,000 Italians and unleashed the deepest economic crisis since World War Two.

Other Italian prime ministers have commanded minority governments. And Giuseppe Conte could now decide to stay in office and seek a few extra backers in the coming weeks – possibly tempting them with a ministry or a change of policy.

But he may decide it’s time to pass the buck up to the president, who would hold discussions with party leaders to determine who could become prime minister or whether fresh elections would beckon.

So it’s another political crisis in a country that’s seen 66 governments since 1945. Exactly what it didn’t need as it battles through coronavirus.

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Chart showing cases in Europe

Covid: Italy, Belgium and Netherlands ban flights from UK over variant

A number of European countries have or are considering banning travel from the UK to prevent the spread of a more infectious variant of coronavirus. 

Both the Netherlands and Belgium have suspended flights. Trains to Belgium have also been banned.

Italy’s foreign minister has said his government plans to ban flights. France, Germany and Ireland are among others considering similar action.

The new variant has spread quickly in London and south-east England.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday introduced a new tier four level of restrictions, scrapping a planned relaxation of rules over the Christmas period for millions of people.

Top health officials said that there was no evidence the new variant was more deadly, or would react differently to vaccines, but it was proving to be up to 70% more transmissible.

Which countries have acted and how?

Within hours of the UK announcement on Saturday, the Netherlands said it would ban all passenger flights from the UK from 06:00 (05:00 GMT) on Sunday until 1 January.

Pending “greater clarity” on the situation in the UK, the Dutch government said that further “risk of the new virus strain being introduced to the Netherlands should be minimised as much as possible”.

The country on Sunday reported a daily increase of more than 13,000 cases – a new record, despite tough lockdown measures being applied on 14 December.

Belgium is suspending flights and train arrivals from the UK from midnight (23:00 GMT) on Sunday. Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told Belgian television channel VRT the ban would be in place for at least 24 hours as a “precautionary measure”, adding “we will see later if we need additional measures”.

Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on his Facebook page that the government was about to sign a measure to suspend flights from the UK.

In Ireland, urgent government talks were held and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said he expected a decision later on Sunday on a new advisory for travel from Britain. Flights and ferries will reportedly be restricted from midnight on Sunday, although details are still being finalised.

In Germany, a health ministry official told AFP news agency that the government was also considering banning flights from the UK, and South Africa, where a variant has also been detected.

The official said the German government was monitoring developments in the UK and working at “high pressure” to evaluate the new information and data regarding the new variant there.

In France, news channel BFMTV reported that the government was “seriously” considering suspending flights and trains from the UK, and the government was “looking for European co-ordination”.

“A decision will be announced during the day,” the channel said.

Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González said Spain also wanted a co-ordinated EU decision on the matter.

Austria is also planning a ban on flights from the UK, with details currently being worked out, Austrian media reported.

What is the new variant?

In the UK, it was first identified in the middle of October from a sample taken in September.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the same mutation has also been detected in the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia.

Dr Catherine Smallwood, of WHO Europe, said that as of 20 December, the numbers in those countries were small, nine in Denmark and one each in the other two nations. But she said other countries had notified WHO of other variants “that also carry some of the genetic changes seen in the UK variant”.

Coronavirus
image captionThe initial coronavirus has a lower “viral load”, which makes it slower to be passed on

The new UK variant has been shown to spread faster than the original virus – up to 70% more transmissible based on modelling figures – but scientific details on the genetic changes, and how they could affect the behaviour of Covid-19, remain unclear. 

Although there is no indication the variant will be more resistant to already-developed vaccines, the mutation does involve the spike protein of the virus.

This is the part that helps it infect cells – and also the part the vaccines have been designed to target. So although scientific experts have warned against an alarmist response, they also say it is essential to track the variant and try to stay ahead of the virus.