Nazi 'exclusive' angers Italy

ANDREW GUMBEL

Rome

What price a scoop? The Italian state television channel RAI3 was so keen to talk to Erich Priebke, a former Nazi SS officer facing extradition from Argentina for his role in one of the worst atrocities of the Second World War, that it offered to pay him $30,000 (pounds 19,500) for an exclusive interview.

Nobody might ever have known about the transaction. As the first extracts of the interview were broadcast on Wednesday's evening news, executives at the station were slapping each other on the back as Priebke made a series of potentially explosive revelations.

But news of the deal leaked out. Yesterday RAI3 found itself at the centre of an ethical row as Italian politicians, journalists and Jewish community leaders lambasted its behaviour.

"It would be terrifying to think that, in a trial brought by the Italian state, a Nazi criminal could pay his legal fees with money given to him by the Italian state television service," said Marco Taradash, president of the parliamentary watchdog committee on broadcasting.

The director of RAI3's news division, Daniela Brancati, said news organisations regularly paid for exclusive interviews. The interview had already been sold to French and German television. As for Priebke's status as a suspected war criminal, "The search for truth about a still shady historical event is for me the primary consideration."

Priebke, 82, is wanted in Italy and Germany for his role in the massacre of 335 civilians in the Ardeatine Caves just outside Rome's city walls in June 1944. A resident of the Argentinian mountain resort of Bariloche since 1948, he admits taking part but says he was obeying orders.

There is, however, a twist in the tale. As the scandal broke, RAI3 had not yet paid out the $30,000. Ms Brancati issued a statement yesterday saying the money had been blocked by the channel's governing body.

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