ROME • A one-eyed former neo-fascist gangster and 45 other defendants went on trial yesterday accused of running a mafia crime ring in Rome that skimmed millions of euros off city-hall contracts.
Prosecutors say their year-long investigation has laid bare systematic corruption within Rome as politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen hooked up with mobsters to rig public tenders on everything from refugees centres to rubbish collection.
Massimo Carminati, a one-time member of Rome's notorious far-right Magliana gang, and his sidekick Salvatore Buzzi, a convicted murderer, are accused of running the crime ring, which prosecutors say represented a new type of mafia in Italy.
Neither man will appear in court during the trial, which is expected to last until at least next July, but will follow proceedings via video links from the high-security jails where they are being held. They deny any mafia links - a crime which carries longer prison terms and tougher jail conditions than simple corruption convictions.
"In this whole story, the thing which has really annoyed Carminati is the fact that his name has been associated with the words 'mafia' and 'drugs'. He has nothing to do with the mafia,"said his lawyer Giosue Naso as he arrived in court.
Prosecutors say the racketeering in Rome went on for years, helping to bring the city to the brink of financial collapse and contributing to the current sorry state of its infrastructure and public services.
Prosecutors have 36,000 hours of wiretaps to back their case, Italian media reported, as well as secretly filmed video showing some of the accused receiving bribes.
An initial, fast-tracked trial connected to the scandal ended on Tuesday, with four defendants, including a senior city official, found guilty and jailed for between four and five years.
Police say the group operated like a mafia clan but was independent of established southern mafias such as Sicily's Cosa Nostra, the 'Ndrangheta in Calabria and the Camorra in Naples. In exerting such broad political control over public contracts, its focus ran beyond traditional mafia areas of extortion, money laundering and drugs.
Prosecutors allege that mobsters flourished in Rome following the 2008 election of right-wing mayor Gianni Alemanno, who is under investigation for graft, but is not involved in this trial.
Mr Alemanno's successor, the centre-left Ignazio Marino, is not implicated in the case, but was forced to resign last week following an unrelated expenses scandal.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE