It's the thought that counts in Italian pay-offs

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The Independent Online
ROME - How much did it cost an Italian pharmaceutical firm to have its products officially recognised by the Health Ministry - whether or not they were of any use to the sick - or to get permission to increase the prices? writes Patricia Clough.

Apart from huge bribes allegedly paid to the former health minister Francesco de Lorenzo and members of the government's pharmaceutical prices commission, it took a little thoughtfulness. A little something for his wife's birthday, say a diamond necklace, a valuable painting for his name-day, jewels for his daughter when she married or precious vases for his silver wedding.

Giampaolo Zambeletti, a pharmaceutical industrialist under investigation in the health scandal, has handed magistrates a list of the gifts he sent Mr de Lorenzo and the former budget minister, Paolo Cirino Pomicino, over the past three years. It reads, the daily La Repubblica said, 'like the catalogue from a Sotheby's auction'.

The list of gifts to the Liberal former minister and his wife, Marinella, reportedly ran like this: Christmas 1990: openwork silver basket, value pounds 15,000. Christmas 1991: emerald and diamond ring, pounds 20,500. Wife's birthday 1991: ruby necklace, value pounds 5,400. Ruby and diamond brooch, pounds 7,500. His birthday 1991: gold Patek Philippe watch, pounds 6,400. Wife's birthday 1992: diamond ring, pounds 10,200. His birthday 1992: Victorian diamond necklace, pounds 16,200. For wife in 1993: pendant earrings pounds 980. Total value: more than pounds 83,000.

But this was downright modest compared to the pounds 155,000 he spent on the Christian Democrat Mr Cirino Pomicino. Besides jewels and two vases worth pounds 16,600 for his silver wedding, they included paintings worth more than pounds 100,000, possibly for his luxurious 14-room penthouse overlooking the Bay of Naples. Suspecting that he may have got the flat in return for huge contracts for the Naples underground railway, magistrates recently sequestered it, but returned it yesterday. Mr Cirino Pomicino could see nothing amiss about the gifts. 'Giampaolo is an old and great personal friend,' he said.