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Wiretaps 'essential', US says

Justice Department official says 'excellent job' must continue

21 May, 15:49
Wiretaps 'essential', US says (see related story on site).

(ANSA) - Rome, May 21 - A United States anti-Mafia official on Friday voiced concern over plans to limit the use of wiretaps by Italian police.

At present, Italian anti-Mafia prosecutors can use wiretaps for as long as they want.

Under a bill currently moving through parliament, they would be authorised for a maximum of 60 days.

Italian prosecutors also claim the new draft legislation would make it harder to obtain wiretaps in the first place.

But Silvio Berlusconi's government says the fight against the Mafia would not be affected by the new norms, and on Friday Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said "Nothing needed to fight the Mafia will be touched".

However, US Justice Department Undersecretary Lanny A.

Brauer told a press conference at the US embassy later Friday that "we would never want anything to happen to prevent Italian magistrates from continuing to do the excellent job they have been doing up till now".

Brauer, who holds the organised crime portfolio at the justice department, stressed that "wiretaps are an essential tool for investigations".

"Italian legislation has been very effective thus far. We wouldn't like to see anything happen to hinder efforts".

Brauer stressed the "excellent collaboration" between the US and Italy in the fight against organised crime.

"Italy has made great progress in the investigation and prosecution of Mafia groups operating inside its borders," he said, while adding "I am aware we can and must do more".

Italy and the US have scored several recent successes against international drug trafficking by Cosa Nostra and other groups.

In March Italian police and the FBI arrested 26 suspects in an operation against a powerful Cosa Nostra clan in Palermo and US affiliates including three Gambino family 'capi' in New York.

Agents said the two-year operation showed how the Italian and US branches of the Sicilian Mafia were still working "closely" together.

Italy's chief of police, Antonio Manganelli, said Friday that "wiretaps are one of the tools at investigators' disposal and if (the government) intends to cut them or regulate them in a different way, we must be given the possibility of using other instruments".

"And in Italy there is no set of other instruments to resort to, as there is, for example, in the United States," he said, referring to sting operations and undercover activities. Italian prosecutors have claimed that they would not have been able to capture the last two Cosa Nostra kingpins, Salvatore (Toto') Riina and Bernardo Provenzano, if the upcoming wiretap rules had been in force.

The government has rejected these claims but there have been unconfirmed reports that Berlusconi's People of Freedom party is weighing changes to the bill.

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