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PdL councillor arrested, allegedly 'bought votes from mafia'

Zambetti was 'Ndrangheta asset, says prosecutor

10 October, 16:28
PdL councillor arrested, allegedly 'bought votes from mafia' (ANSA) - Milan, October 10 - Domenico Zambetti, an executive councillor in the Lombardy regional government, was arrested on Wednesday for allegedly buying votes from the 'Ndrangheta mafia syndicate.

Zambetti, a member of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party, is accused of paying two mobsters 200,000 euros for 4,000 votes (at 50 euros each) in the 2010 elections for the assembly of the region around Italy's business capital Milan. Milan prosecutor Ilda Boccassini said the investigation, which led to 20 arrests on Wednesday including Zambetti's, had showed 'Ndrangheta's ability to affect "the democracy of the country and the freedom to vote". She said the probe had also uncovered evidence that the powerful syndicate, which is originally from the southern region of Calabria but has spread to wealthier northern regions in recent years, contaminated the vote for Milan's city council last year.

Boccassini said Zambetti became an "asset for the mafia organization and it demanded favours from him". An alleged example of this was the fact that Zambetti had the daughter of an alleged Ndrangheta' boss, Eugenio Costantino, hired by a regional agency. Lombardy Governor Roberto Formigoni said via Twitter that he had relieved Zambetti of his duties because of the gravity of the allegations.

Judicial sources, meanwhile, said three Lombardy regional councillors have been put under investigation on suspicion of fraud in an unrelated case.

The three are the Northern League's Davide Boni, the former speaker of the regional assembly, and Franco Nicoli Cristiani and Massimo Buscemi of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party.

Zambetti's arrest and the corruption probe takes the number of councillors in the Lombardy regional executive and assembly who are under investigation up to 14. They include Formigoni of the PdL who is accused of corruption related to health contracts.

Milan Mayor Giuliano Pisapia said Formigoni should quit in the light of Zambetti's arrest.

"After this latest development, it's not possible to go on like this," Pisapia said.

In neighbouring Piedmont, meanwhile, police searched regional government offices as part of a probe into suspected graft relating to contracts for the construction of new regional headquarters. Furthermore, Vincenzo Salvatore Maruccio, the caucus head in Lazio for the anti-graft Italy of Values (IdV) party, has been put under investigation for allegedly embezzling half a million euros of public money.

Wednesday's developments were part of a string of corruption scandals that have hit various parts of Italy's political spectrum in recent months. The PdL was already in turmoil over the case of its former caucus chief in Lazio, Franco Fiorito, who was arrested last week on suspicion of embezzling public money. That case caused Renata Poverini to resign as governor of Lazio last month.

Experts say the scandals have strengthened widespread public disaffection with the nation's political class and contributed to the rise of comedian Beppe Grillo's grassroots Five Star movement, which is opposed to the present party system.

The Five Star movement is vying with the PdL for second place in the polls, according to several recent surveys.