Hot tips could land porter in the cooler

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THE LATEST person to be accused in Italy's proliferating scandals is the hall porter of the Plaza Hotel in Rome. But the Plaza is not just any hotel and Luigi 'Gigino' Esposito is no ordinary porter.

While the Hotel Raphael was the realm of Bettino Craxi, the disgraced former prime minister, the Plaza held the court of Gianni de Michelis, foreign minister, powerful Venetian boss and arch-suspect in big corruption cases.

And Gigino Esposito presided over this court, juggling telephone calls, dealing with the women milling around in the lobby, greeting ambassadors and industrialists, buying the ministerial underpants, fixing appointments and looking after his bodyguards and belongings.

His services brought him tips of a million lire ( pounds 450) a time - infinitesimal compared with the kickbacks Mr de Michelis is alleged to have taken. More recently they brought him trouble. What he locked up in the hotel's luggage storeroom for the minister turned out to be potentially incriminating diaries and earned him a charge of aiding and abetting.

Then an envelope he accepted and passed on to the minister's secretary was allegedly found to have contained a L100m ( pounds 45,000) bribe and got him arrested on Thursday for receiving stolen money and complicity in breaking laws on party financing.

This is just one of many incidents in the 54 years since, as a 14- year-old Neapolitan urchin, Gigino answered a 'boy wanted' advertisement and became a Plaza lift-boy.

His lawyer argues that taking envelopes was part of his job: the magistrates see it differently. For Gigino, now under house arrest, it is 'just another chapter in the book I am writing about my life'.

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