Sexual antics of Italian MPs brought to book: The amorous activities of the country's disgraced regime are being documented in loving detail, some of it highly imaginative

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The Independent Online
WHILE sex stories set John Major's government and Bill Clinton's presidency a-tremble, the lid is coming off the amours - real or imagined - of Italy's old regime. From a former minister who claims more conquests than there are states in Unesco, to an ex-prime minister who had some two hundred ladies claiming to be his mistress, a book entitled Il Letto e il Potere (Power and the Bed) regales Italians with the history of their First Republic as seen from between the sheets.

They might well wonder how politicians found time and energy to extort the bribes they needed to keep themselves in the style to which they wanted to be accustomed. It must have been tough, with all the diamonds and designer-dresses needed to keep their mistresses and their harems happy.

Or so it would seem from Tangen topolis and the Forty Thousand Thieves, a comic relating a thinly veiled - in every sense - version of the beginning of the Tangentopoli (Bribesville) corruption investigations which finally brought down the old political class. It starts with a scene involving a diamond and anal sex and passes, via orgies, mistress-swapping, oral sex and corruption to the first enquiries by the magistrate Tonino Di Scoglio (Tony Rock - immediately recognisable as the investigator Antonio Di Pietro, which means stone), to mass investigations, a suicide and the prediction of worse crimes still to be uncovered.

The main figure is Marietto Cattedrale, a name reminiscent of Mario Chiesa, the first accused in Tangentopoli. It is dominated by the bespectacled, thick-lipped

Leader Maximo, whose resemblance to the former Socialist prime minister Bettino Craxi is entirely intentional. A foreword wishes the characters '15 years' hard labour each . . . and the most resounding kicks in the arse from the Italian People'.

Tangentopolis was a hit. The first 50,000 copies were sold in two days and the publisher, Renzo Barbieri, is printing another 100,000. Although lurid, the scenes are not as fanciful as one might think, Mr Barbieri said. 'Porters and staffs of certain hotels have confided in me about orgies and other goings-on. I believe at least some of it is true.'

On the other hand, Filippo Ceccarelli, a journalist on La Stampa, has carefully documented his Power and the Bed, which he calls a sexual history of the First Republic. It seems ages ago, but it was in the summer of 1950 that a young woman took off her bolero in a Rome restaurant to reveal the modest sun-top she had on underneath and a young MP exploded: 'It's disgusting] It's abominable]'

The woman's father and a friend of her husband challenged the MP to a duel, which he refused and the whole thing ended in parliament. The MP, then 32, was a certain Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, who is now President of Italy, but his views certainly have not set the tone.

While many politicians had colourful but relatively discreet sex lives over the years, Mr Craxi and his Socialists openly surrounded themselves with models, actresses and good-time girls. One, Moana Pozzi, wrote a book in which she gave marks to her lovers. Top score went to one who, with untypical discretion, she did not name but said was 'tall, broad, wears spectacles and is the leader of a party in . . . ' Government?

The actress Sandra Milo has no such compunction. In a book of her own she described her first night with Mr Craxi and parties on the terrace of the Rome hotel where he lived. 'What a coming and going. Roman ladies, young starlets. I must have met 200 girls who claimed to be Craxi's mistress. In Rome it was a status symbol.'

The difference between Italy and Britain and the US is that here it does not matter one bit. Italians would have liked their leaders to be honest but they never expected them to be saints. 'They do not give a damn' Mr Barbieri said.