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Italian notables feel heat of corruption scandal

May 13, 2010

by Guy Dinmore in Rome

Published: May 13 2010

Italy’s great and famous risked being dragged through the mud of a widening corruption scandal on Thursday as the media began to publish the names of some 400 people said to have benefited from work carried out by a Rome construction entrepreneur under investigation for possible bribery.

The “excellent names”, as they are referred to in the press, include well known figures in the state broadcasting network, a film director and a Vatican priest referred to as “Don Bancomat” (Father Cashpoint).

Official institutions were also listed, including the secret service, the prime minister’s Rome residence and official office, the Carabinieri police and the finance ministry tax police.

Claudio Scajola, industries minister, resigned last week, while denying that he had accepted €900,000, paid in 89 cheques, from accounts of Diego Anemone, a Rome builder who was among four people arrested in February. He was released from prison last week and remains under investigation. Mr Anemone has also denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Scajola said last week he intended to explain to the magistrates the circumstances surrounding the controversial purchase of his flat overlooking Rome’s Colosseum, but media reports on Thursday said he had changed his mind and would not have an interview with magistrates on Friday as scheduled.

Guido Bertolaso, head of the civil protection agency and a close aide to Mr Berlusconi, is under investigation for allegedly receiving sexual and financial favours from Mr Anemone in return for approving state construction contracts. Mr Bertolaso held a press conference last week, denying the accusations and explaining that the two women who gave him massages were professional physiotherapists and not prostitutes.

On Wednesday, Ercole Incalza, a senior official in the infrastructure and transport ministry, tendered his resignation over the investigation. He also denied any wrongdoing.

Politicians in the ruling centre-right coalition denounced the publication of the lists, said to have been seized by police from Mr Anemone.

Mr Berlusconi was reported as saying he was “disappointed” in Mr Scajola but insisted that the widening scandal was not a repeat of the 1990s “Tangentopoli” (Bribesville) era that transformed Italy’s political scene as parties were exposed to have engaged in systematic corruption involving construction contracts and appointments.

The favours-for-tenders investigation threatens to become the most serious case to undermine Mr Berlusconi’s centre-right government since he returned to office two years ago. The ruling coalition has also been riven by infighting among his allies, but officials insist they are confident that neither internal disputes nor the investigation, led by magistrates in Perugia, risk bringing the government down.

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