Hijacking truth: Telekom Serbia
JUST Response interviews Domenico Pacitti
Response: 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?
Domenico Pacitti: In 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
Response: Who are said to have been
the chief beneficiaries of the kickbacks?
Pacitti: The 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 mentioned.
Response: Who made the initial
Pacitti: 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.
Response: What are the latest
Pacitti: 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
Response: Can you briefly explain to
our readers what Nomisma is exactly?
Pacitti: 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 corruption.
Response: 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 Italy’s
numismatic Mr Prodi – guru or godfather?.
Pacitti: Thank you. That saves us going over it again here.
Response: 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
Pacitti: 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.
Response: What exactly did Cossiga
Pacitti: 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.
Note: This interview appeared in JUST Response on September 23 2003.