Stew of corruption oozes from Neapolitan riviera: Patricia Clough examines a wave of scandals miring eminent Naples citizens

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THE 'Park of Flowers,' they call it, the white tourist village perched among the twisted pines and the rocks on the Amalfi coast near Positano, surely one of the loveliest corners of the Mediterranean. What does it take to have free use of an apartment here, plus fur coats for the wife, other expensive gifts and lots of money?

In an infinitely less appealing cell of the jail in Bellizzi Irpino, in the remote Naples hinterland, one of Italy's public prosecutors - a profession that has produced the heroes of the political revolution - is desperately denying to three colleagues that he was the Camorra's Mr Fix-it who sorted out problems with the law in exchange for these rewards.

Dark, bespectacled Armando Cono Lancuba is the public prosecutor of Melfi but until 1990 he was a powerful deputy prosecutor in Naples, responsible for scrutinising the charges that came in and deciding whether to proceed.

'Lancuba was the judicial consultant to Carmine Alfieri (the top boss of the Camorra, the Naples mafia) and the stage-manager of all the proceedings against the organisation,' Pasquale Galasso, Alfieri's deputy-turned-pentito, has told magistrates. He allegedly 'adjusted' trials in the Camorra's favour and tipped it off as to which judges to bribe. Raffaele Cutolo, Naples's other big boss, recently added: 'Lancuba was my baby.'

The arrest of Mr Lancuba this week was only part of a new wave of scandals to break over Naples and expose scarcely-imaginable graft and the depths to which many of its apparently most respectable citizens - especially the judiciary - were prepared to sink.

Only a few days earlier, Agostino Cordova, the city's formidable and normally taciturn chief prosecutor, declared that 'Naples is the capital of corruption'. From here, he said, the infection 'radiated throughout the country'. And indeed, while Milan was the capital of corruption between big business and politicians, Naples has produced sickening evidence of decades of complicity between the Camorra and politicians - led by 'Don' Antonio Gava, the former interior minister - of the southern votes-for-favours system. The city also produced possibly the vilest corruption cases of all - the multi-million pound deals between top Health Ministry figures and the pharmaceuticals industry at the expense of the sick. The politicians, Mr Cordova charges, passed laws in parliament with the precise purpose of making money on them. And 'there is no area of the bureaucracy that is not corrupted'.

Now 11 pentiti are 'singing', including Carmine Alfieri himself and, more cautiously, Raffaele Cutolo, and reinforcements are being rushed to the city's prosecutors' office to help cope with the deluge of information. Meanwhile more than 20 leading Naples figures were arrested or served notice of investigations this week by anti-Mafia magistrates of nearby Salerno, one of whom, Alfredo Greco, remarked 'we have only lanced one boil, we have not cured the infection'. Behind bars is a judge, Vito Masi, also a resident of the 'Park of Flowers' and accused of demanding 30m lire ( pounds 12,000) from Galasso in exchange for acquitting him of extortion.

But even more shocking to ordinary Neapolitans is the notice of corruption investigations sent to Arcibaldo Miller, the magistrate heading the pharmaceuticals and votes-for-favours cases. The son of a former RAF pilot, 'Arci' was becoming a hero to ordinary Neapolitans, like Judge Antonio di Pietro in Milan, but not to his colleagues. 'He was Lancuba's right-hand man and he has been trying to recycle himself,' said Marco Occhiofino, who with other colleagues has been demanding Mr Miller hand the cases to someone else.

Mr Occhiofino and some colleagues reported collusion between Naples magistrates and the Camorra to the High Council of the Judiciary, its self-governing body, six years ago, but they were threatened with disciplinary action and their charges ignored.

Many threads in the investigations cross at the 'Park of Flowers'. Investigators suspect the village was built - at a cost of 15bn lire - to recycle Camorra drug money. Two magistrates who agreed to drop the case are under investigation themselves. Another, who is investigating the corruption scandal surrounding the reconstruction after the Irpinia earthquake but after 14 years has brought no one to trial, was allegedly sold an apartment there at a knock-down price.