Italy faces new political crisis over ‘tax spying’
28 October, 2006
The revelation has prompted questions as to whether the country is seeing a return to the black years of the 1970s when shadowy powers were at work, subverting and corrupting the democratic process.
Reports in the press that the tax files of senior politicians, including Prime Minister Romano Prodi and his predecessor Silvio Berlusconi, had been illegally consulted were confirmed yesterday by the prosecutor’s office in Milan which is leading an investigation, initiated a month ago after a complaint from the economics ministry.
The disclosure comes a month after a vast network of illegal phone tapping, involving leading figures in the political, economic and sporting worlds came to light.
The governing left-wing coalition is taking the matter very seriously – with Deputy Economy Minister Vincenzo Visco speaking of “deliberate political espionage” – but Berlusconi has dismissed the affair as a “hoax”.
Some 250 homes and offices of 117 tax officials and 10 members of the financial police were raided nationwide on Thursday.
Those under investigation are suspected of illegally consulting the tax files of prominent people.
Besides Prodi and his wife, Berlusconi and his daughter Marina, President Giorgio Napolitano and his predecessor Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, two leading figures in the main left-wing party had their files read.
The files contain details of individuals’ personal wealth, tax status, tax amnesties from which they had benefited and gifts made.
The daily La Repubblica said the tax files of stars of Italy’s 2006 World Cup winning football team, Francesco Totti and Alessandro Del Piero, had also been spied on.
“Politics is ending up directly under attack by ‘hidden powers’,” La Repubblica said.
“We have no doubt these searches went beyond the tasks assigned” to those whose houses and offices were raided, the Milan prosecutor’s office told AFP.
Those under investigation are suspected of “abusive access to a computer or data communication system”, a crime carrying a possible prison sentence of up to eight years.
Prodi’s tax files were intensively “consulted” this spring during the election campaign from which he was to emerge narrowly victorious.
His tax-free gifts to his children were the subject of several virulent articles in the right-wing press during the campaign.
“Is it a case of a structured network or are these consultations the result of an unhealthy curiosity about the personal wealth of (well-known) personalities on the part of tax employees?” asked the centrist Corriere della Sera newspaper.
“It has the flavour of blackmail, of intimidation, of institutional disloyalty that should not have a place in a free democracy like ours,” Corriere della Sera said in a front-page editorial.
After the disclosure of several scandals linked to the Berlusconi era – illegal phone-taps, complicity with the US CIA spy agency in the kidnapping of an imam – the centre-left La Repubblica worried about “hidden powers which for some years have been weighing again on Italian public life, as in the time of the (secret Masonic lodge) P2”.
More down to earth, the business daily Il Sole 24 Ore said that the “climate of alarm for democracy could act as a crack of the whip” for the ruling coalition at a time when Prodi is trying to close breaches in its ranks.
Berlusconi has played down the scandal, calling it a smokescreen” to distract Italians from Prodi’s troubles governing with a razor-thin majority. – AFP/Reuters