Italian politicians implicated in Mafia murder

THE MULTIPLYING scandals of corruption and abuse of power by Italian politicians have taken a chilling new turn. Some, it is alleged, have blood on their hands.

Four Calabrian politicians - three Christian Democrats and a Socialist - are accused of deciding, along with five alleged Mafia bosses, to order the assassination of Lodovico Ligato, a fellow politician and former head of the Italian state railways.

Two alleged Mafia killers are accused of carrying out the murder. They allegedly fired 30 bullets into Ligato after he bade farewell to dinner guests at the gate of his seaside villa at Bocale, near Reggio Calabria, on the night of 26 August 1989.

According to Reggio's public prosecutor, Bruno Giordano, the politicians - who included two former MPs, one a former minister, and two former mayors of Reggio Calabria - and their Mafia friends decided to have Ligato killed because he had got in the way of business. Having returned to Calabria after a scandal-packed spell as head of the railways he was claiming a large share of the rake-offs from public contracts which had already been carved up among the accused.

The case, which throws a glaring light on the links between politics, the Mafia and money in parts of southern Italy, has shaken the country. In Mafia-ridden Reggio - where, after seeing 700 murders in seven years, people are hard to shock - a pensioner summed it up: 'Stealing (by politicians) is one thing, killing is quite another. Killing. Holy Christ] They can forget my vote.'

The Turin-based daily La Stampa remarked that in some parts of the south, 'politics and crime have become Siamese twins'. The only solution, it argued, was to take the sicker parts of the south out of the hands of the politicians and put them under a state commissar who would 'destroy the machine of corruption and misrule and patiently recreate a basis for democracy'.

Lodovico Ligato, the son of a poor Calabrian railwayman, is a classic example of an ambitious southerner who rose to power, wealth and fame through the political system. Intelligent, pushy, self-assured and charming, he began in journalism, joined the Christian Democrats and in 1979 was elected to parliament with a large majority that, in Calabria, only the Mafia can muster. Six years later, thanks to his political connections, he was made head of the state railways.

Three years after that, disgraced, he was forced by his own party to resign. There were the charges of fraud for vast sums of money spent on throwaway sheets for couchettes, bought by the railways in a crooked contract for 10 times their real value. Then came charges of bribery, corruption and embezzlement.

He returned to Calabria, having formed nearly 30 companies with his son with the intention of profiting from huge and lucrative public works contracts, only to find that his colleagues had other ideas. He was 50 when he was murdered.

For three years it seemed as if the culprits would never be found. Dr Giordano said Ligato's political colleagues were not only unhelpful but tried to lead investigations astray. Finally it was two pentiti, or supergrasses, who, he said, provided the evidence on which to make the charges.