New arrests for alleged mafia-like network in Rome involve politicians, spark tensions



Italian police arrested 44 people on Thursday in the latest development of a major probe against an alleged mafia-like ring based in Rome.

Prosecutors believe the organization was involved rigging public contracts to run migrant reception centers across the country.

Tensions ran high among parties as several local politicians were among the arrestees, including regional councillor Luca Gramazio from Silvio Berlusconi's center-right Forza Italia (FI) party and former president of the Rome city parliament Mirko Coratti from Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's Democratic Party (PD).

Arrest warrants were issued against at least two other city councillors from PD and FI respectively, and other officials in the municipal and regional administrations, the police said.

Anti-mafia prosecutors also issued search warrants against other 21 people in the Lazio region around Rome, in the central city of L'Aquila, and in Catania and Enna in Sicily.

The arrestees were variously charged with mafia association, bribery, bid rigging, faking invoices, and other related crimes.

Prosecutors suspected all the arrestees were part of a mafia-style association, which also focused on managing waste disposal, recycling services, and maintenance of public green areas.

The network had worked mainly through cooperative businesses, securing numerous contracts and financing from Lazio Region, Rome municipality, and municipal companies by means of corrupt practices and collusion, a police statement said.

It had involved common criminals, corrupt businessmen, public officials and politicians over many years.

"Those who steal go to jail, and pay it all," Prime Minister Renzi said on Thursday after the new scandal hit the headlines.

Current Rome mayor from PD, Ignazio Marino, commended the new arrests, saying: "Now there are clean people (in the city council). We are changing everything."

Anti-immigration Northern League party and Five Star Movement, which are opposition in parliament, however, asked Marino to leave.

"He must quit, so that we can go back to the polls as soon as possible. And the government should also provide answers (on this scandal)," Northern League leader Matteo Salvini told online daily Affari Italiani.

"Stop all migrant boats departures and all public tenders (for reception centers) immediately," Salvini wrote on his Facebook.

The PD leadership, in the meanwhile, defended Marino's work against corruption, claiming the mafia-style network uncovered by prosecutors was mainly "a right-wing gang".

"Marino's administration is a bastion of legality, and what is taking place is also due to their reports (to judicial authorities)," PD President Matteo Orfini told a press conference.

"Someone within our party has given up, and will pay his dues to justice. They are not worthy of being PD members, and all those arrested were immediately suspended from the party," Orfini said.

The head of parliamentary anti-mafia commission Rosy Bindi, who is also a PD high-ranking member, said she was worried "by the depth of the ramifications of Carminati's mafia organization."

The leading figure of this network was right-wing extremist Massimo Carminati, 56, a former member of a neo-fascist group involved in terror bombings in Italy in the 1980s, according to prosecutors.

Carminati and another 36 people had been brought to jail in December 2014 in the first phase of the so-called "Mafia Capital" inquiry, which is coordinated by Rome's chief prosecutor Giuseppe Pignatone.

Overall 100 people had been put under formal investigation in December, including former Rome mayor and right-wing politician Gianni Alemanno, who denied any wrongdoing. Enditem