'The cow must be milked' - new corruption scandal rattles Rome

'The cow must be milked' - new corruption scandal rattles Rome
5 June 2015
By Alvise Armellini

Rome Mayer Ignazio Marino arrives for press conference - © Giuseppe Lami, EPA

Rome (dpa) - Matteo Renzi may be preparing his best suit to put on at this weekend's Group of Seven (G7) summit in Bavaria, but back at home Italy's fresh-faced prime minister is dealing with fresh scandals at the heart of the nation.

Rome was described as the "corrupt capital" of an "infected nation" in a landmark 1955 journalistic expose on real estate speculation. Sixty years on, the whiff of sleaze has hardly gone away from the so-called Eternal City.

On Thursday, prosecutors working on the landmark "Mafia Capitale" case ordered a second round of arrests targeting local politicians and mobsters allegedly in cahoots over the awarding of lucrative public tenders. The Mafia Capitale case is unprecedented, because it is the first time that home-grown criminal groups in Rome are being prosecuted using anti-Mafia laws initially designed to fight organizations like Cosa Nostra in Sicily and the Camorra around Naples.

This week 19 people were arrested, 25 placed under house arrest, and 21 placed under investigation. A first police sweep, conducted in December, saw 37 people being arrested and 101 put under investigation. "We are very far from the bottom of this pit," Carlo Bonini, an investigative journalist from La Repubblica newspaper, who wrote about corruption in modern Rome in a 2013 book that preceded official investigations, tells dpa. Bonini expects plenty more people to be implicated in the scandal, especially if some of the jailed suspects - who have remained silent so far - start to cooperate with prosecutors in return for more lenient sentencing.

The presumed ringmasters of Mafia Capitale are Massimo Carminati - a former neo-Fascist terrorist turned leader of Rome's criminal underworld - and Salvatore Buzzi, an ex-convict who led a public services cooperative with left-of-centre political connections. They are said to have had dozens of local councillors, aldermen and municipal officers in their pocket, from both the right-wing administration that led Rome from 2008 to 2013, to the sitting leftist one that came after it.

"The cow must always be fed, so that it can always be milked," Buzzi was quoted as saying in a wiretapped conversation, in which he referred to the thousands of euros in bribes that were distributed among top officials. "We know very well that for every regional, municipal tender, we have to give out something to the ruling party and something to the opposition," Buzzi said in another intercepted conversation.

Luca Odevaine, jailed in December and hit with a second arrest warrant this week, was overheard boasting about receiving monthly bribes of 50,000 euros (55,000 dollars) to manipulate tenders for the management of refugee centres. Odevaine, once a close aide of former centre-left leader Walter Veltroni, an ex mayor of Rome who was at one point listed as a contender for the Italian presidency, allegedly applied a one-euro-per-refugee tariff for his bribe-taking.

According to latest revelations, a cooperative with links to the Catholic movement Communion and Liberation paid Odevaine to run the Mineo facility in Sicily, the biggest refugee centre in Europe, hosted in a former gated community for US soldiers. A member of Renzi's government from Sicily, deputy minister for agriculture Giuseppe Castiglione, was among those placed under investigation over the Mineo contract for suspected bid rigging. Castiglione professed his innocence in several media interviews.

The scandal leaves Renzi facing fresh opposition calls to order the dissolution of Rome's municipal government over Mafia infiltration. The prime minister is resisting such calls, and is standing by Mayor Ignazio Marino, who belongs to his centre-left Democratic Party (PD). Marino, who prides himself in being an outsider to Rome's murky power circles, is seen as above suspicion, but many question whether he is making any progress in tackling the capital's endemic problems, which go well beyond corruption.

"Formally speaking, all the prerequisites to dissolve the local government are there. But doing it would be act of surrender, and a national embarrassment," Bonini said. "Could you imagine the same happening in Berlin or Washington?"

Source: dpa.