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Mafia writer-minister row escalates

Maroni demands denial after comments compared to Mob lawyer's

17 November, 14:33
Mafia writer-minister row escalates (ANSA) - Rome, November 17 - A huge row between Interior Minister Roberto Maroni and anti-Mafia writer Roberto Saviano escalated Wednesday when the author compared a turn of phase used by the minister to comments made by an infamous mobster's lawyer.

The furore exploded on Monday when Saviano said Calabria's 'Ndrangheta syndicate had spread outside their southern base and was 'talking'' to the Northern League on a controversial hit show on state broadcaster RAI.

Northern League heavyweight Maroni said the comments were slanderous and demanded the right to reply on the show, adding: ''I'd like a face-to-face with him to see if he has the courage to say those things looking me in the eye''.

The row heated up further when Saviano, whose 2006 book Gomorra (Gomorrah) on the Neapolitan Camorra mafia was an international bestseller, claimed that the lawyer of jailed Camorra boss Francesco 'Sandokan' Schiavone had once said something similar to him.

''Certain words are truly disturbing coming from the mouth of the interior minister,'' Saviano told Wednesday's edition of left-leaning daily La Repubblica.

Maroni said he was flabbergasted at that and suggested he was considering legal action.

''I'm astounded. I hope it was a mistake and therefore I ask Saviano for a denial, reserving the right to take any necessary action (if it is not forthcoming),'' the minister said.

He added that if RAI did not allow him the right to reply on the show, Vieni Via Con Me, it would be ''a sort of gag or censorship''.

Maroni had said on Tuesday he would appeal to President Giorgio Napolitano if he was not granted time on the show, after one of the chiefs of the RAI channel it is broadcast on said he could reply elsewhere. Saviano, who spends much of his time in hiding and is under 24-hour police protection after enraging mobsters with Gomorra, a play on the word 'Camorra', had justified his comments by saying they were based on the results of judicial probes into mafia attempts to penetrate northern Italy's political environment. He cited the example of a local League councillor who met a man linked to 'Ndrangheta, while stressing that the councillor had never been put under investigation. Maroni responded that he was well aware that 'Ndrangheta were trying to infiltrate northern Italy's political and economic spheres, pointing out that he had taken several initiatives to counter this.

These measures include a special commission he set up to watch out for mafia attempts to muscle in on contracts for the 2015 Milan Expo.

''But here we are talking about something else - it was said that 'Ndrangheta talks to the League in the North,'' said Maroni Wednesday.

''I reject that statement. It's a serious falsehood''. The minister reiterated that the current government has fought hard against organised crime, saying a string of recent operations against 'Ndrangheta, the Camorra and their Sicilian cousins Cosa Nostra have put the clans on the back foot.

Saviano's comments also sparked indignation from other members of the League and of Premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party, their government allies.

''The results the government and the interior minister have achieved in the fight against the Mafia are plain to see,'' said Foreign Minister Franco Frattini of the PdL.

''We are witnessing a poisonous, slanderous attempt to discredit this effort, the minister behind it and the party he belongs to''. But Saviano, whose book Gomorra was made into a successful film of the same name, also had supporters.

''Saviano was not mudslinging, as the League says, he was simply showing things as they are,'' said Francesco Ferrante of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), the biggest opposition group.

On Wednesday the Antimafia Investigative Directorate (DIA) said 'Ndrangheta's presence in Lombardy was in ''constant, progressive development'' and that the syndicate ''interacts'' with the northern region's business sphere in its latest report to parliament.

Monday's edition of Vieni Via Con Me, which Saviano co-hosts, had already sparked polemics before going on air and attracting over nine million viewers, more than 30% of the overall audience share.

The PdL were furious at being excluded after PD leader Pier Luigi Bersani and House Speaker Gianfranco Fini were invited to give monologues on the values of the Left and the Right respectively.

Fini appeared on the same day he pulled his ministers from the government, leaving it on the brink of collapse, having split earlier this year from the PdL he founded with Berlusconi and forming his own party, Future and Freedom for Italy (FLI).

The appearance of euthanasia-supporting relatives of two deceased people at the centre of high-profile right-to-die cases also caused controversy.

Berlusconi was among the targets of Oscar-winning Italian director Roberto Benigni's satire when he starred on the first episode of the show last week.

photo: Interior Minister Roberto Maroni (left) and anti-Mafia writer Roberto Saviano (right).

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