Market porter takes gangster rap

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Salvatore Girgenti sounds a plausible sort of name for a southern Italian gangster. And Salvatore Girgenti is the name of a southern Italian gangster wanted for involvement in the contraband cigarette business.

Unfortunately, Italian law- enforcement officials have been pursuing an entirely different Salvatore Girgenti, with tragi-comic consequences.

Last December, Salvatore Girgenti, an entirely innocent 65-year-old market porter, was served with a tax demand for 225,152,050,619 lire (pounds 100m).

Mr Girgenti, who lives with his wife and two sons in a council house in one of the poorer quarters of the Sicilian capital, Palermo, assumed the demand was a joke or a mistake, and ignored it. But, two days ago, the bailiffs came knocking at his door threatening the confiscation of his every possession.

Realising the gravity of his plight, Mr Girgenti appealed to the police, who realised the man before them had nothing to do with the Mr Girgenti caught with a truckful of contraband cigarettes outside Naples in 1983, and wanted for a string of offences since. But Italy's fiscal authorities, notoriously bad at catching up with tax-dodgers, were reluctant to release their hold. And yesterday the bailiffs impounded Mr Girgenti's furniture, with the exception of his marital bed, and told him they would sell everything at auction if he did not pay within 90 days.

Mr Girgenti promptly checked himself into hospital complaining of heart failure. Television cameras duly filmed him writhing in rather histrionic agony and thrust their microphones accusingly under the noses of embarrassed Palermo officials. Mr Girgenti is still awaiting an official retraction, but his career on Italy's late-night chat shows seems assured.