Prodi Victim in fresh spy flap
Published on 08/11/2006
A fresh spy furore erupted in Italy on Thursday October 26 involving Premier Romano Prodi and his family.
Milan prosecutors said they were investigating a spy ring which had gained unauthorised access to the centre-left premier's tax returns and other fiscal records, including financial investment details.
They said more than 100 illegal checks had been carried out on the tax status of Prodi and his wife Flavia and that 128 people were now under investigation, including dozens of employees at the tax and customs offices and several members of the tax police.
Searches have been carried out on the homes and offices of all those under investigation.
Last month, Italy was rocked by a massive wiretap scandal involving telecommunications giant Telecom and its parent company, the tyre group Pirelli.
A bugging ring was uncovered which had gathered illicit data on politicians, businessmen and media figures as well as ordinary Italians but it is not yet known for what ends and for whom.
The new spy case came to light after a complaint filed last month by the Treasury, which noticed that Prodi's tax records had been accessed a suspiciously large number of times, particularly in the run-up to the April general election.
Prosecutors said the fiscal records of other top public officials as well as a number of showbusiness celebrities and well-known sports figures had also been illegally accessed.
Prodi's spokesman Silvio Sircana said that "we are deeply disturbed and concerned by the news of these illicit actions".
"As far as Prodi and his family are concerned, these activities have shown themselves to be pointless and counterproductive," he said.
Members of the governing coalition also expressed alarm.
Justice Minister Clemente Mastella said that "this is a dark page in the history of our Republic".
MP Gianclaudio Bressa said that "this is terribly serious - officials at the tax office were accessing the personal files of Prodi and his wife in the lead-up to the election".
"It's obvious that the reasons for these activities were political," he said.
The Greens and the Italian Communists' Party said that "powers exist which are trying to destabilise our entire democratic system".
But the centre-right opposition led by former premier Silvio Berlusconi accused Prodi of attempting to shift attention away from the unpopular 2007 budget. The 40-billion-euro deficit-cutting budget, branded a tax sting by the opposition, has dented Prodi's post-election popularity.
Berlusconi's Forza Italia party said that "every time Prodi is in a mess, a judicial inquiry is launched which distracts public opinion".
During the election campaign, Forza Italia used personal fiscal details to attack Prodi.
It accused the former European Commission chief of taking advantage of a law introduced by the centre right allowing him to avoid taxes on a gift of some 860,000 euros to his two children in 2003.
The money was used to buy homes for the two Prodi children.
Meanwhile, prosecutors are still carrying out investigations into the phone bugging ring which came to public light in September and which is also known to have spied on Prodi.
Some 20 people have been arrested in the probe, including Telecom's former head of security Luciano Tavaroli; Pirelli security chief Pierguido Tezzi; the owner of a Florence-based private investigation firm Polis d'Istinto,
Manuele Cipriani; and several police officers.
Cipriani, whose Polis d'Istinto received tens of millions of euros from Pirelli and Telecom, had regular contact with members of Italian military intelligence service SISMI, as did Tavaroli.
The government recently passed an emergency decree ordering the destruction of the information gathered by the bugging ring.
LIFE IN ITALY