Italy exposes health service web of bribes: Former minister's aide reveals how drug companies cashed in on Aids

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The Independent Online
SOME OF the most illustrious names in Italian medicine, chiefs of drugs companies, heads of publicity firms, senior civil servants, a former health minister and his brother stand accused of corruption at the expense of taxpayers and the sick. Many are in jail or under house arrest; others are being hunted by police. One, Professor Antonio Vittoria, head of the medical faculty at Naples University, committed suicide last week as the net was closing in.

The new scandals have broken largely as a result of confessions by Giovanni Marone, the former secretary and general factotum for Francesco de Lorenzo, the former Liberal health minister. After two months in jail and questioning in Naples and Milan he has delivered 97 pages of evidence. From what is known so far, he has alleged that:

Mr de Lorenzo and the ministry's pharmaceutical prices commission took huge bribes in exchange for allowing price increases or simply speeding up decisions.

Publicity companies paid the minister large bribes, gave advertising to a Liberal party paper and footed political bills in exchange for lucrative contracts to run ministry anti-Aids campaigns on television.

The minister and leaders of other parties arranged to share out kick- backs from contracts to build hospitals for Aids victims.

Mr de Lorenzo, who is protected for the time being at least by parliamentary immunity, has been notified he is under investigation on the particularly serious charge of criminal association for the purpose of corruption and violating the law on party financing. Already under investigation on other counts, he stepped down earlier this year when his father, Ferruccio de Lorenzo, a famous doctor, politician and president of the Italian medical association, was arrested for corruption.

Now his brother Renato, a leading Naples lawyer and president of the Neapolitan health service, is being sought under an arrest warrant for aiding and abetting. He allegedly turned 1.5bn lire ( pounds 700,000) worth of 'excess liquidity' from the bribes into long-term treasury bonds for his brother or the Liberal party.

Arrest warrants have been issued for six members of the drugs prices commission on the same charge as Mr de Lorenzo. They include Duilio Poggiolini, director-general of the ministry's pharmaceutical department, who is also president of the European Community's commission for pharmaceutical products and a member of the World Health Organisation's pharmaceutical commission. A former member of the subversive P2 masonic lodge, he is abroad but has said he will return to clear his name.

Another is Professor Elio Rondanelli, a leading specialist on infectious diseases and vice-president of the Italian anti-Aids campaign, who was arrested on Monday. He is also allegedly a former P2 member.

Police are hunting for a former deputy head of the Bank of Naples, Pasquale Acampora, who is also the head of a publicity company suspected of paying nearly 200m lire to the former minister in gratitude for the anti-Aids publicity. Top Italian executives of Young and Rubicam, DAPS and FCB Mac/Publicis were arrested yesterday on similar charges.

The heads of two Italian pharmaceuticals firms are also in jail for alleged bribery. One, Luigi de Vita of Celsius, allegedly not only gave the minister money but also a 10 per cent share in his company through a transaction carried out abroad.