Son of Italy's last king held over Mafia and prostitution claims

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The Independent Online

The son of Italy's last king, Prince Victor Emmanuel, has been arrested in the north Italian town of Lecco as part of an investigation into charges he was involved with the Sicilian Mafia and a prostitution racket.

Victor Emmanuel, who has 10 other names, was nine years old when his father, King Umberto, went into exile in Portugal after Italians voted in 1946 to replace the monarchy with a republic. He and his family were barred from returning to Italy until March 2003, when many years of lobbying finally paid off.

The investigation leading to his arrest was launched at the other end of the country, in the city of Potenza, capital of the region of Basilicata in the far south, by a flamboyant and controversial prosecutor called Henry John Woodcock, the 39-year-old son of a British father and a Neapolitan mother. Mr Woodcock has carved a unique reputation for himself as a fearless challenger of highly placed politicians and other influential people, whom he has accused of being involved with organised crime. But many of his more audacious arrests have not resulted in trials.

Judicial sources said last night that Victor Emmanuel, 69, was suspected of having contacts with the Mafia and of helping procure prostitutes for clients of a gambling casino in Campione d'Italia, an Italian enclave on Lake Lugano near the Swiss border.

Emanuele Filiberto, the 24-year-old son of Victor Emmanuel, told Italian television: "They grabbed him like a bandit, taking his mobile phone and carrying him off to Potenza. You don't treat a 70-year-old like this, especially when he has health problems. This is the umpteenth publicity stunt by Henry John Woodcock ... The accusations have nothing whatever to do with my father."

Victor Emmanuel has had entanglements with the law in the past. In 1978 on the island of Cavallo, south of Corsica, he discovered that the rubber dinghy of his yacht had been tied to another boat. He took a rifle and went to confront the boat's owner, shooting at a passenger on the boat but missing him and hitting Dirk Hamer, a man sleeping on the deck of another yacht moored nearby, who subsequently died of his wounds. In 1992, the Prince was finally cleared of manslaughter charges.

More recently, he was involved in a brawl after a dinner hosted by King Juan Felipe I of Spain to celebrate the wedding of his son when he punched his rival, Amadeo of Savoy, the Duke of Aosta, twice in the face. Amadeo is regarded by some monarchists as the true heir to the Italian throne, as Victor Emmanuel was obliged to renounce his claim to the throne as one of the conditions for being allowed to return to Italy.

He has also been sharply criticised for appearing to minimise the evil of the anti-Semitic laws enacted by Mussolini under his grandfather, King Victor Emmanuel III, calling them "not that terrible". And it was learnt that he was a member of the outlawed, ultra right-wing Masonic lodge P2 ("Propaganda Due").

However, Victor Emmanuel's name has never before been linked to the Sicilian Mafia, and the charges provoked consternation in Italy. Monarchists were quick to see political moves to strike the royal family again, following the decision of Emmanuel Filiberto to support a Christian Democrat candidate in Italy's recent general election.

Twelve others have been arrested, including Salvatore Sottile, the spokesman for the former Foreign minister Gianfranco Fini.