Slush fund cases go to court

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The Independent Online
ROME - The cases of two former Italian interior ministers suspected of pocketing illegal 'salaries' from the slush funds of the secret services were referred to a special court yesterday, writes Patricia Clough.

Antonio Gava and Vincenzo Scotti were among four past and present interior ministers alleged by top secret service officers to have plundered the service's secret funds.

The case against Nicola Mancino, the minister now, was dropped while that of Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, now President of Italy, which caused a near-crisis last week, was not mentioned in the decision of the magistrates. As President, he cannot be prosecuted.

Mr Gava and Mr Scotti, both Christian Democrats, are alleged to have taken 100 million lire ( pounds 42,000) a month from the secret operations funds of the SISDE, the civilian security service.

Mr Scotti is also alleged to have had his home and his offices lavishly redecorated and furnished by the service. Mr Gava is already under investigation for alleged connivance with the Naples Mafia, the Camorra.

They are the first to be referred to a court of highly qualified judges, chosen by lot, to examine alleged abuses by cabinet ministers while in office since Italy's corruption investigations began. The court is called the Ministerial Tribunal.

Umberto Bossi, leader of the Northern League, has provoked protests by a violent attack on a magistrate who is investigating another League politician, Senator Giuseppe Leoni, on suspicion of issuing false receipts for money to fund his election campaign.

'When the regime falls these people will be swept away, too,' Mr Bossi told an election rally on Thursday, referring to the magistrate.

'It is absolutely clear what they want, they want to besmirch the League.'

Mario Cicala, the president of the national association of magistrates, was quick to retort.

He said: 'When the magistrates strike at his political adversaries that's okay, when it strikes at the League he does not like it.'