Italian politicians 'obstructing inquiry into child porn on Net'

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The Independent Online

Child-mad Italy, already perturbed by a sweeping international probe into paedophiles on the internet, is grappling with the nightmare that leading politicians or institutional figures may be implicated in the inquiry.

Child-mad Italy, already perturbed by a sweeping international probe into paedophiles on the internet, is grappling with the nightmare that leading politicians or institutional figures may be implicated in the inquiry.

The magistrate leading the investigation, Alfredo Ormanni, has provoked a furore by denouncing a "paedophile lobby" supported by politicians which he said openly obstructed the investigators and worked to prevent tougher sanctions for the consumers of child pornography. His comments have seen Italy's fragmented political forces close ranks swiftly to demand that if the magistrate has evidence of an organised pro-porn lobby that he name names.

Mr Ormanni last weekend charged 1,500 people, including 831 Italians, with selling or downloading internet child pornography. It was the culmination of a lengthy investigation by police, centring on a paedophile ring in Russia that operated a vast traffic via the internet. The gang allegedly kidnapped children from orphanages and parks and filmed them doing sexual acts against their will and then sold the footage for between £200 and £4,000 via the internet. Horrified investigators gathered images of more than 2,000 children who were filmed while being abused, raped and in one case killed.

"There is a paedophile lobby that acts in broad daylight and probably with the support, which I could consider unwitting, of certain political parties," said Mr Ormanni.

"If he has evidence of a crime we need names and surnames," responded interior minister Enzo Bianco in a television interview, saying he had created a "climate of suspicion that is frankly unacceptable".

The Social Affairs Minister, Livia Turco, accused Mr Ormanni of electioneering, and defended Italy's child protection legislation. Opposition hard-right MP Alessandra Mussolini, who recently proposed bombarding child sex sites with viruses, said the allegations must be cleared up immediately.

Mr Ormanni's comments, which recall the scandal that rocked Belgium, came shortly after one of Italy's most active anti-porn campaigners, Father Fortunato Di Noto, said he would not longer collaborate with the authorities because the phenomenon wasn't being taken seriously enough.

Material provided by Fr Di Noto and his volunteers at Telefono Arcobaleno has been indispensable in the current inquiry and past convictions.

Further heightening suspicion that the inquiry had touched insospettabili, figures above reproach, Fr Di Noto said he would explain his decision only in person to the Italian president.

As part of the operation, a special police squad near Naples set up a fake paedophile website which attracted more than 1,000 subscribers, despite clear warnings about the content. Most of those indicted are charged with downloading child pornography.

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