Activists fight to save ‘innocent’ bear held for killing jogger in Italy

Animal rights campaigners are calling for the release of a female bear suspected of killing a jogger in northern Italy, after they said teeth marks proved the culprit was in fact male.

Brown bear in a forest
17-year-old brown bear JJ4 stands accused of killing a jogger in the Trentino region, northern Italy. Photo by Raymond ROIG / AFP

The 17-year-old bear is suspected of killing Andrea Papi, 26, who was mauled to death while jogging on a mountain path close to his village of Caldes in Trentino on April 5th.

The bear, identified as JJ4 by authorities, was captured and taken to a high security animal enclosure while a local court decides whether or not she should be destroyed.

The controversial case of Italy’s first fatal bear attack in modern times has pitted Maurizio Fugatti, the president of Trentino province, who says the bear must be put down, against animal activists fighting for its release.

Fugatti said traces of JJ4 had been found at the scene.

She was found and taken to an enclosure, separated from her three two-year-old cubs, but activists have issued a legal appeal against the kill order.

“JJ4 is innocent,” animal welfare association Leal told AFP on Thursday.

Among documents being examined by the court, which is set to rule on May 24th, is a forensic report submitted by the region and drawn up by pathologist Mattia Barbareschi, who was present at the autopsy.

He found bite marks “characterised by a distance between them of about 8cm to 8.5cm, which is the typical distance between the canines of an adult bear”.

Leal said it has presented the court with another forensic report, done by two veterinary experts who studied Barbareschi’s findings, which claim the distance between the canines was “typical of an adult male”, not a female.

“We have asked the court to order a specialised veterinary doctor to examine the specimen, to measure her teeth,” Leal’s lawyer Aurora Loprete said.

The association also said finding traces of JJ4’s DNA at the scene were not proof she was the killer, questioning if the collection process had been done properly.

Leal said the autopsy also showed it was “a protracted attempt by the bear to distance and dissuade the victim”, rather than “a deliberate or predatory attack”.

Papi’s death launched a debate on the dangers posed by bears, which were reintroduced to the region between 1996 and 2004. There are around 100 of them now in Trentino, according to the province.

Fugatti had ordered JJ4 to be put down in 2020, after two hikers were attacked, but that order was overturned by a court. JJ4 was fitted with a radio collar instead so she could be tracked, but the battery on the device ran flat and was not replaced.

Animal rights groups insist bears normally keep their distance from people and it is up to local authorities to ensure that people are kept away from zones where female bears are raising their cubs.

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Italy has most recovery fund fraud cases in EU, report finds

Italy is conducting more investigations into alleged fraud of funds from the EU post-Covid fund and has higher estimated losses than any other country, the European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO) said.

Italy has most recovery fund fraud cases in EU, report finds

The EPPO reportedly placed Italy under special surveillance measures following findings that 179 out of a total of 206 investigations into alleged fraud of funds through the NextGenerationEU programme were in Italy, news agency Ansa reported.

Overall, Italy also had the highest amount of estimated damage to the EU budget related to active investigations into alleged fraud and financial wrongdoing of all types, the EPPO said in its annual report published on Friday.

The findings were published after a major international police investigation into fraud of EU recovery funds on Thursday, in which police seized 600 million euros’ worth of assets, including luxury villas and supercars, in northern Italy.

The European Union’s Recovery and Resilience Facility, established to help countries bounce back from the economic blow dealt by the Covid pandemic, is worth more than 800 billion euros, financed in large part through common EU borrowing.

READ ALSO: ‘It would be a disaster’: Is Italy at risk of losing EU recovery funds?

Italy has been the largest beneficiary, awarded 194.4 billion euros through a combination of grants and loans – but there have long been warnings from law enforcement that Covid recovery funding would be targeted by organised crime groups.

2023 was reportedly the first year in which EU financial bodies had conducted audits into the use of funds under the NextGenerationEU program, of which the Recovery Fund is part.

The EPPO said that there were a total of 618 active investigations into alleged fraud cases in Italy at the end of 2023, worth 7.38 billion euros, including 5.22 billion euros from VAT fraud alone.

At the end of 2023, the EPPO had a total of 1,927 investigations open, with an overall estimated damage to the EU budget of 19.2 billion euros.