Italian MPs rule against buying of votes: As corruption arrests continue, chamber of deputies moves to clean up its act

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ITALY'S Chamber of Deputies yesterday smartened up its public image, badly dented recently by outbreaks of rowdyism, and voted a symbolic 'no' to the practice of buying votes with political favours.

At the same time, arrest warrants were issued for two well-known figures who personified the old-style combination of politics and business. Mauro Leone, son of the former Italian president, Giovanni Leone, a lawyer and businessman, was arrested in a Rome clinic and taken off to jail.

The other was Giuseppe Ciarrapico, president of the Roma football club, owner of newspapers, mineral water companies, a local airline and some of the city's smartest cafes. He is reported to be in Germany, where Roma was to play Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA cup quarter-final last night, and had promised to return and give himself up after the match.

Both men are closely linked to the former Christian Democrat prime minister, Giulio Andreotti. Both have been charged with association to commit crimes, fraud, issuing false receipts and keeping false accounts by magistrates investigating the activities of companies belonging to Efim, a state-owned concern in liquidation.

Milan's chief public prosecutor, Francesco Saverio Borrelli, yesterday flatly denied a magazine report that President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, upon whom hopes for a democratic solution to Italy's present crisis largely depend, had been named by two politicians as having received dubious contributions for an election campaign. 'In no part of the inquiry . . . has there been any direct or indirect reference to the name of the current head of state,' he declared.

The Chamber of Deputies also dealt a blow to the government by voting down a decree that would have given the go-ahead to big public works contracts frozen by the corruption scandals. It upheld a ruling by a committee that the government had no right to push the legislation through as a decree. Although thousands of jobs are at risk, many members felt they would be sanctioning contracts won by crooked methods.

In a significant vote, the Chamber also gave its consent to the prosecution of Francesco de Lorenzo, the former health minister, for buying votes with political favours. The vote was not a judgement on the former minister, which is a matter for the courts, but it is being seen as a rejection of the widespread practice by which politicians could get people jobs, licences, untangle their bureaucratic affairs and do other favours in exchange for votes by them and their families.

Vittorio Sgarbi, an MP from Mr De Lorenzo's own Liberal Party, pointed out that the practice 'is an established custom which has nothing to do with the penal code. In Campania (where Mr De Lorenzo comes from) all parliamentarians do it.' To which a Green MP, Maurizio Pieroni, retorted: 'I can assure Sgarbi that you can be elected perfectly easily spending less than a million lire ( pounds 500) and without printing a single leaflet.'

Achille Occhetto, the former Communists' leader, called it 'a victory for parliament, a wonderful moment'. But the vote was extremely close - 289 to 281 - with the government parties on Mr De Lorenzo's side.

TRENTO - Fire swept through a cattle shed in northern Italy yesterday where about 100 refugees from former Yugoslavia were sleeping, killing five of them, Reuter reports.

Police said investigators had found nothing suspicious about the fire. But state television later reported that arson was suspected and that a car had been seen speeding away from the site just before the blaze started.

The fire prompted immigrant aid groups to appeal for improvements in living conditions for those fleeing from former Yugoslavia.