The Prime Minister, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, expressed 'deep concern' that the campaign was being disrupted after police went to the Forza Italia headquarters in Rome and Milan asking for lists of the candidates and heads of more than 10,000 Forza Italia clubs around the country.
They had been sent by magistrates in Palmi, Calabria, who are investigating illegal masonic networks. The magistrates denied any political motive. 'We are not conducting politics, we are doing our job,' one said. They stressed that the move was connected with investigations against a few individuals, not against Forza Italia.
The episode nevertheless linked Forza Italia with masonic-Mafia-political networks on the lines of the P2 masonic lodge, which the Palmi magistrates have been investigating for three years. Mr Berlusconi was a member of P2, but denies ever having had an active role.
He issued a furious statement yesterday, declaring that 'these things happen only in totalitarian states', and has demanded that the President 'put an end to this provocation against Italians' freedom'. President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro met the High Council of the Judiciary last night to discuss the raid.
During the campaign Mr Berlusconi has seen Paolo, his brother and business associate, arrested on suspicion of corruption, executives of his business empire under investigation for issuing false invoices, allegations by pentiti (Mafia supergrasses) of links between one of his right-hand men, Marcello dell' Utri, and the Mafia. Yesterday there were claims that Forza Italia in Sicily offered jobs in exchange for votes.
Luciano Violante, respected chairman of the parliamentary anti-Mafia Commission and a member of the former Communist PDS, resigned yesterday amid fierce protests from the Berlusconi camp over his supposed disclosure to the daily newspaper La Stampa that Mr dell' Utri's brother was being investigated for alleged drug and arms trafficking. Dr Violante, a former magistrate, claimed that the purported disclosure, which he denies, was a 'trap' set by Forza Italia to discredit him.
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