Hijacking truth: Telekom Serbia
In the second of a new series of JUST Response features with Domenico Pacitti, we look at Italy's latest corruption scandal, Telekom Serbia. Pacitti recounts the case and considers recent pronouncements by former Italian president Francesco Cossiga
The latest chapter in the continuing story of Italian political corruption
appears to be the Telekom Serbia scandal. Can you sketch in the essential
background details for us?
1997, under the Olive Tree coalition government led by Romano Prodi, Telecom
Italia paid the equivalent of about 500 million euros for a share in Telekom
Serbia, thereby providing crucial financial aid to the Slobodan Milosovic
regime. When Italy sold back its shares last year, it recovered considerably
less than half that sum. It is alleged that 120 million euros of the initial 500
million were paid back into the private accounts of some of Italy’s leading
figures of the political left via the Monaco-based Paribas private bank.
Who are said to have been the chief beneficiaries of the kickbacks?
chief beneficiaries are said to include: the then premier Romano
Prodi; the then vice-premier Walter Veltroni; the then foreign affairs minister
Lamberto Dini; and the then undersecretary for Community policy Piero Fassino.
Francesco Rutelli, the present leader of the Margherita party and Clemente
Mastella, who heads the Udeur “people’s” party, are also said to have
benefited. All have denied involvement and say they will sue for defamation.
Italy’s current president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi was treasury minister
responsible for economic programming at the time and therefore a central figure
one would have thought. But interestingly his name has not so far been
Who made the initial allegations?
The man making all the allegations is a Swiss-Italian financial consultant by
the name of Igor Marini, who is being held on money-laundering and fraud
charges. Marini is now a key witness for the Italian parliamentary commission
which is conducting enquiries into those allegations. Earlier this month Fassino
suggested that Silvio Berlusconi was the puppet-master who was pulling the
strings and Berlusconi responded by filing a 15 million-euro lawsuit against
Fassino for slander. Fassino has meanwhile said he will sue the Italian national
daily Il Giornale, owned by Berlusconi’s brother Paolo Berlusconi, for
the same amount. Fassino claims that Il Giornale has been waging a
defamatory campaign against him for some time.
What are the latest developments?
Well, the Paribas bank has just stated that the 120 million euros was only a
“virtual” sum and not a real one in that it existed in computer form but not
in fact. Former president of the Yugoslav Beogradska bank, Borka Vucic, who is
due to give evidence this week is insisting that it is a political and not a
banking issue. But the Italian parliamentary commission has confirmed that it
will pursue its investigations. Meanwhile, the Nomisma company has said it is
suing Il Giornale and the right-leaning newspaper Libero for five
million euros each for having linked Nomisma to Telekom Serbia.
Can you briefly explain to our readers what Nomisma is exactly?
Nomisma was originally founded as a private economic research centre in 1981 by
a group of Bologna economists headed by Romano Prodi, though Prodi insists he is
no longer involved. Il Giornale once called it “a sort of mafia cosca
clan”. Nomisma now describes itself as a public consultancy company. Let’s
say it constitutes another distinguished example of Italian politically-linked
Readers might be interested to know that you have written about this yourself
and that it is on the JUST Response site under the title
numismatic Mr Prodi – guru or godfather?
Thank you. That saves us going over it again here.
According to the left, Berlusconi has orchestrated the entire affair in order to
distract attention from his own problems with the judicary. According to the
right, the parliamentary commission seems determined to prove the contrary. How
do you see the situation and who do you think is right?
Anyone who knows anything about how Italian politicians work will know how
extremely odd it would be for a 500-million-euro deal to take place without the
protagonists pocketing a fair slice of the proceeds. That is what Italian
politics is all about – devising new ways of transferring public money to
private bank accounts. That, it should be remembered, is the principle reason
anyone goes into politics in Italy in the first place. Now whether ot not this
will ever be legally proven is another matter. With a judiciary that cannot be
counted on to resolve the issue in the politically correct manner, the quick and
easy solution is to halt the parliamentary commission's enquiry altogether,
which means getting left and right to agree on at least the groundrules of how
to settle their major differences. This is precisely what Italy’s wise old owl
Francesco Cossiga proposed in a radio interview just a couple of days ago.
What exactly did Cossiga say?
What Cossiga said was that Telekom Serbia had simply turned out to be a very bad
business deal for Italy and that Milosevic had duped the Italian government. He
added that if things continued along these lines, Italy risked having a
three-year electoral campaign that would be nothing short of venomous. Having
stated that he personally did not believe there had been any kickbacks, Cossiga
went on to say, and I quote: “Even if they had pocketed cash, for the sake of
our country we would have to deny it.” So
here you have a former president of Italy and twice premier openly advocating
that the truth should in certain circumstances be hijacked, notably where it
reveals that the country’s politicians are thieves, liars and criminals. As for
the three years of venomous campaign, let’s hope it goes ahead.
Pacitti: Because of all the hard truths that will inevitably emerge from such a campaign and that would not otherwise see the light of day. You see, all the turmoil and conflict between Berlusconi and the left that political commentators and others are complaining about is actually a healthy sign and they are wrong to complain. Radical political polemics are pulling a good deal of skeletons out of cupboards. This is obviously positive for those of us who are interested in trying to find out the truth. I mean, the usual pattern that characterised many post-war Italian governments was cross-party agreement which crucially limited the bounds of what actually got discussed and debated in public. Strange as it may seem, what we are witnessing here is something that is more radically true and spontaneous.
|Domenico Pacitti is Editor of JUST Response. He has written over 400 articles against corruption in Italy. He has taught philosophy, linguistics and Chinese at universities in the UK and Italy and currently teaches English language and American literature at the University of Pisa|
Note: This piece was published for the first time by JUST Response on September 23 2003.
|In the same series|
|Economising on truth: The Economist and Berlusconi|
|Related articles in JUST Response|
|Italy's numismatic Prodi - guru or godfather?|
|Conflicting interests - Silvio Berlusconi|
|Berlusconi on balance|
|Roman Catholic principles of corruption in Italy|
|Di Pietro, corruption and Clean Hands|
|The face of revolution - an interview with Antonio Di Pietro|
|Also in JUST Response|
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