Italian water king returns to face the music: Roma FC chief accused of fraud

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The Independent Online
THEY call him King of the Bubbles. Giuseppe Ciarrapico is president of Roma football club and a classic example of the rich businessman with friends in high places. Yesterday he was behind bars in Rome's Queen of Heaven jail.

Mr Ciarrapico, who had been missing since a warrant was issued for his arrest last Thursday, flew in from London and gave himself up at the headquarters of the Guardia di Finanza, the fiscal police, on Sunday night. His lawyers said he had been having medical check-ups, although he owns a string of private clinics and diagnostic centres in Italy.

Called the King of the Bubbles because he owns numerous mineral water spas, including Fiuggi - reputed to have relieved many Italians, among them a Pope and Michelangelo, of their kidney stones - he is wanted on grave charges: conspiracy to commit crime, serious fraud, issuing false receipts and falsifying accounts.

Also in jail is his friend and co-accused, Mauro Leone, son of a former president of Italy, vice- president of the Roma club, and former vice-president of Efim, the state industrial holding company, now bankrupt.

The Rome magistrates allege that Mr Ciarrapico issued false invoices to an Efim subsidiary for about pounds 17m while the accounts of his own holding company, Italfin 80, were falsified to the tune of pounds 130m.

Mr Ciarrapico is a prominent and colourful figure in Rome. A former fascist, he is a close associate of the former prime minister, Giulio Andreotti, which has doubtless done his business no harm. Reputed to have multiplied his fortune 50-fold in the 1980s, he owns, among other things, an air-taxi company, several provincial newspapers, the Casina Valadier, a smart restaurant on the Pincio hill overlooking Rome, and the chic cafe Rosati on the Piazza del Popolo.

He admits he is not part of the 'best parlour' of Italian industry - he has a misleading reputation as a coarse and pushy provincial - but sought a cultural aura by founding the 'Fiuggi Prize' worth pounds 250,000, which was once awarded to Mikhail Gorbachev.

Mr Ciarrapico insists he is innocent. In sharp contrast, a fellow Christian Democrat from Naples, Alfredo Vito, confessed all, quit politics and publicly urged other members of the discredited old guard to do the same. Mr Vito, nicknamed 'Mr Hundred Thousand votes' for the extraordinary number of preferential votes he collected at elections, said later his public repentance - so far unique among politicians in the corruption scandals - was partly the result of talks with a friend who is a Jesuit priest.

Many prominent figures in the southern city are now living in anxiety as Mr Vito's confessions are doubtless swelling the already thick files the magistrates are accumulating of corruption and related misdeeds.

The Prime Minister, Giuliano Amato, reacted calmly to the resignation on Sunday of his Agriculture Minister, Gianni Fontana, who is under investigation for receiving illicit funds. Mr Fontana was the fifth minister to resign in two months.