Italy's Secrets Poised To Spill in Scandal

CORRUPTION PROBE WIDENS

PRESSURE is building for early parliamentary elections in Italy, following reports of alleged secret payments to Italy's interior ministers over a 10-year period.

President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, interior minister from 1983 to 1987, was the most prominent politician hit by the accusations, which have discredited an entire generation of politicians here. Charges in the far-reaching investigation include kickbacks in exchange for public contracts and alleged collusion between politicians and organized crime.

Former President Francesco Cossiga, a conservative former Christian Democrat who expressed support for Mr. Scalfaro, said that only early elections held immediately would restore popular faith in the country's institutions.

The latest accusations have been broadly rejected as a destabilizing maneuver, something in which critics say the Italian secret services have long excelled. Vittorio Mele, the public prosecutor in Rome, was at pains to note that the ``revelations'' were made by members of the Sisde domestic intelligence agency who were themselves under investigation for mishandling of state funds and would therefore require careful verification.

``It is an attack on the state,'' says Rocco Buttiglione, a member of the Christian Democrat Party leadership. ``I have a deep respect for President Scalfaro.''

The affair follows the release on Nov. 2 of Prime Minister Carlo Azeglio Ciampi's proposed secret service reform plan. It would abolish Sisde and Sismi, its foreign intelligence counterpart, and would have their successors report directly to the prime minister. Mr. Ciampi is asking Parliament to make his proposal law.

The latest charges came Wednesday as part of an investigation into Sisde activities. According to former Sisde chief Antonio Galati, four Christian Democratic interior ministers from 1982 to 1992 were secretly paid 100 million lira (about $61,000) a month by Sisde. The purpose of the payments was not explained.

The four ministers - Scalfaro, Antonio Gava, Vincenzo Scotti, and incumbent Nicola Mancino - all deny the charges. The fifth interior minister of the era, Amintore Fanfani, also a Christian Democrat, declined the payments, Mr. Galati said.

AFTER the testimony became public, Achille Occhetto, leader of the Democratic Party of the Left, called on Scalfaro to set a date for early elections.

Diego Novelli, the head of the parliamentary deputies of the Rete, a small anti-Mafia party, also wants early elections. He counts about 300 parliamentarians as under judicial scrutiny. ``The air here in Parliament is unbreathable.... Let's send those people who are under investigation home and then we'll see what happens later,'' Mr. Novelli says. ``The electorate is sovereign.''

Mr. Buttiglione dissents, saying that the result would be a Parliament dominated by ideological enemies: the Christian Democrats, the Democratic Party of the Left, and the Northern League. ``Better to wait a few months and then to elect a Parliament that can govern,'' he says.

In any case, Scalfaro cannot set the date for new elections until the creation of a new electoral college is completed. This change was required following parliamentary approval of a British-style electoral system, overwhelmingly sought by Italian voters in a referendum earlier this year. The president is expected to name a date in April 1994 for the vote.

In addition to the charge that he received the monthly payments, Scalfaro also stands accused of holding a meeting in 1992 with Mr. Mancino and ex-Sisde directors Riccardo Malpica and Angelo Finocchiaro to develop a plausible excuse for shelving a developing judicial investigation into Sisde's secret funds. Galati claims to have receipts for the payments.

To Buttiglione, this latter claim is not credible.

``Did you ever see a James Bond movie?'' he asks.

Often Bond would be required to make a payment to someone in exchange for information, he says dryly, ``but I don't ever recall seeing this fellow sign a receipt.''

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