Italian corruption trial starts for 46 politicians and others
An Italian court has began the trial of 46 politicians, businessmen and others in a still-expanding corruption probe investigating Rome's city hall.
The inquiry has revealed a well-oiled system of alleged kickbacks, pay-offs, and Mafia-style intimidation to gain control of millions of dollars of city contracts.
Prosecutors say rampant corruption, which involved the management and supply of migrant shelters, sanitation agencies, parks maintenance and other municipal services, dates back years.
The allegations implicate officials from both left-leaning and right-leaning parties, as well as bureaucrats and outside go-betweens.
The wrongdoing pre-dates the tenure of Ignazio Marino, who resigned last week as Rome's mayor in part because his Democratic Party, led by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, lost confidence that he could overhaul city hall and thwart future corruption.
The alleged ringleader is Massimo Carminati, a Rome figure well-known to investigators who has past links to a far-right domestic terrorist group. His lawyer, Giosue Bruno Naso, scoffed at allegations violence was used to win contracts.
The lawyer told reporters outside the courtroom that corruption was endemic in all cities and that "this country is morally rotten".
Phone calls intercepted by police revealed how suspects gleefully exploited those in need, including the city's often ostracised Roma population and the thousands of asylum-seekers who were rescued at sea. One suspect was overheard saying there was more money to be made housing migrants than in drug trafficking.
Those calls showed how bosses of local criminal gangs sought to cement ties with city politicians over lucrative public contracts.
Some politicians allegedly received a payment of several thousand euro monthly to ensure the contracts were awarded to criminal cronies, often without sufficient or even any bidding, according to prosecutors.
Among the key defendants is the manager of a Rome petrol station, where the masterminds allegedly met regularly to figure out the next public contract to control.
In Italy, requests for civil damages can be attached to a criminal trial. The consumer group Codacons, which requested permission to do so, said more than 100 people who worked as managers or staff in city hall are "reputedly in cahoots or somehow linked to a Mafia-like system handling the contracts".
"The irregular management of contracts has cost Roman citizens damages that Codacons today estimates at 1 billion euro (£700,000,000)," the group said.
Among dozens of other suspects formally under investigation and waiting to see if they will be indicted is Mr Marino's predecessor, Gianni Alemanno, a former neo-fascist whose tenure was dogged by patronage scandals. He denies wrongdoing.
This trial is expected to take months.