Politicians jailed in corruption crackdown

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The Independent Online
ROME - Twenty-two people, mostly politicians, have landed behind bars and another five - including three Members of Parliament - are expected to follow shortly in a huge drive against political corruption in Reggio Calabria, writes Patricia Clough.

The politicians, from the Christian Democrat, Socialist and Republican parties, are accused of demanding or receiving rake-offs totalling around pounds 500,000 for contracts to build a new complex of public offices. Among them are four former mayors of Reggio, several former councillors and local party secretaries.

The investigating magistrates have announced they will ask parliament to waive the parliamentary immunity from arrest and prosecution for three MPs under suspicion. The heads of two big Italian construction firms were marched off in handcuffs during the round-up on Monday, for allegedly having paid the bribes.

It was the second spectacular wave of arrests to shake the Calabrian capital in the space of two months. On 11 July members of the 13-strong city council were arrested. But the magistrates stressed that the charges against the latest batch were only a tiny part of their investigation. They are now interested, for instance, in what went on when the local airport was modernised and the local railways improved.

The arrests were reportedly made on the basis of a 180-page confession by the most recent mayor of Reggio, Agatino Licandro, who owned up in exchange for a promise by the magistrates to protect himself and his family from reprisals. He, his wife and three children are now said to be living, heavily guarded, inside a Carabinieri station. The city of Reggio, whose politicians are also reputed to be deeply involved with the Mafia, is now being run by a government commissioner.

Reggio is just one of several Italian cities where politicians are under investigation and in numerous cases under arrest for demanding payment in exchange for public-works contracts that they handed out. For years this has been a tacitly accepted method of financing their party's activities, and in some cases also lining their own pockets. All parties who held power anywhere were involved.

The Italian public finally revolted against the system when investigations in Milan led to allegations against prominent personalities including the brother and close associates of Bettino Craxi, the Socialist leader. This led to demands for a clean-up of public life in general and the political parties in particular - but getting the latter to change is easier said than done.