Italy's secret service faces big shake-up: Cabinet acts as evidence grows of massive swindles, Patricia Clough writes from Rome

Click to follow
A REFORM of Italy's discredited secret services was agreed by key cabinet ministers yesterday amid mounting evidence of embezzlement, corruption and murky plots.

Riccardo Malpica, who was director of Sisde, the civilian security service, from 1987 to 1991, was arrested on Friday. Another top official gave himself up yesterday and four more are being sought by police on suspicion of jointly stealing 49bn lire (pounds 20m) from the service's secret funds. The money was allegedly used to buy houses and apartments for themselves or members of their families, to set up businesses or to put into personal bank accounts.

Last week Sisde's former chief administrator, Maurizio Broccoletti, claimed to magistrates that Sisde had been paying illegal 'salaries' to prominent people, including the present chief of police, Vincenzo Parisi, a former defence minister, a carabinieri general and a top aide of Oscar Luigi Scalfaro (then interior minister, now President of Italy). The precise purpose of these 'salaries' was not explained.

He implicitly dragged the President's name further into the mud by claiming that the various interior ministers over the years had known of and approved Sisde's illicit payments. Italians breathed again when Rome's chief public prosecutor, Vittorio Mele, announced that President Scalfaro was not interior minister during the period to which Mr Broccoletti was referring.

Dr Parisi, furious, said that Mr Broccoletti had been put up to it by someone intent on destabilising the country. Mr Broccoletti is one of the five now wanted for embezzlement and criminal association.

It was reportedly these events which prompted the Prime Minister, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, to move swiftly with his plans to reform the services. These plans, to be approved by the full cabinet later this week, are to include a searching look at the efficiency of their staffs - 140 of whom have already been dismissed and more than 300 retired prematurely - reform the structures and tighten up control by the prime minister and parliament.

Sisde and Sismi, its military counterpart, which is run by the Defence Ministry, will be placed under a joint chief reporting to the prime minister.

Mr Ciampi's decision to reform the services appeared to have been precipitated by the services' failure to produce anything more than speculation about those behind the car-bomb attacks which have shaken Italy in recent months.

But the services had long been under a shadow following revelations that top officials had been members of the infamous P2 Masonic conspiracy, and evidence that some members were involved in terrorist bomb attacks and, or, sought to put investigating magistrates off the trail of the real culprits.

Apart from alleged 'deviations' Sisde, in particular, is now being accused of gross inefficiency, partly, it is alleged, because it has been filled, like many other state organisations, by the proteges of politicians regardless of professional merit.

The military service has been reformed and renamed three times since the Second World War, each time after scandals, plots and mysteries.