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Outside Edge: Sex, cocaine, murder and me

February 12, 2010

by Guy Dinmore

Published: February 12 2010

I had not received phone calls like this since I worked in the Soviet bloc, more than 20 years ago. “Meet me at the [deleted] Metro station,” whispered the anonymous caller. “I have information on via Gradoli.”

Since that street is both my home and the scene of a recent political sex and drugs scandal – involving transsexual prostitutes, two mysterious deaths and possibly the Mafia – my curiosity was doubled.

Via Gradoli, a nondescript circle of apartment blocks on the dreary edge of Rome, first hit the headlines in 1978, and then again last October.

Piero Marrazzo, centre-left regional governor and a former anchorman, was reportedly blackmailed by four policemen. A video showing the 51-year-old married governor in his underwear with Natalie, a Brazilian transsexual, and lines of cocaine laid out, had been circulated to the press, including prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s media empire.

After ritual denials, Mr Marrazzo admitted personal errors, resigned and said he would repair to a Benedictine monastery. The four policemen were arrested.

Natalie lived and worked at number 96. At the supermarket I would exchange greetings with her and Brenda, another Brazilian transsexual (and companion of the governor), often seen in a tight white top that accentuated her figure.

A month later Brenda was dead, found naked in her apartment on nearby via Due Ponti, apparently asphyxiated by a small fire. Her laptop was submerged in a sink, a tap still running. A murder inquiry was launched. Friends muttered about Mafia involvement.

Meanwhile, Gianguarino Cafasso, who supplied cocaine to the prostitutes and was said to have leaked the video, had also died from an overdose.

Back to 1978. Aldo Moro, former prime minister, was kidnapped by Red Brigades militants who held him hostage and demanded the release of jailed comrades. The state refused and Moro was shot dead 54 days later. He had been kept captive in number 96 via Gradoli.

While the mainstream media have skirted what might be just a bizarre coincidence, blogs, conspiracy theorists and my man at the Metro suspect higher, darker powers at work.

They point to Sergio Flamigni, a former communist senator and member of the Moro parliamentary inquest, who wrote that the intelligence services in 1978 owned flats in number 96. People think they still do. Like so much in Italy’s murky past, truth is slippery. It is strange, say residents, that Natalie, despite a deportation order, is back in via Gradoli, and even one of the arrested policemen has been seen there.

With scandals daily news fodder in Italy, attention moves on. This week it emerged that Guido Bertolaso, an aide to Mr Berlusconi, was under investigation on suspicion of accepting sexual favours for state contracts. Denying the allegations, Mr Bertolaso says a woman mentioned in telephone intercepts was just “a very good physiotherapist”.

The writer is Rome bureau chief

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