Charges of corruption are nothing new in Italy, but this week many Italians appear shaken by the eruption of three scandals here involving dozens of high-ranking bankers and businessmen, a Christian Democratic Cabinet minister, and a large number of the country's best-known soccer players.
Two of the scandals suggest that there is a vast illegal political funds network among Italian politicians. They are not expected to help the already shaky minority government headed by Christian Democrat Francesco Cossiga.
The third scandal sent shock waves through the Italian sporting world and appeared to be the major topic of conversation this week amont Italy's hundreds of thousands of impassioned soccer fans.
The most important of the three scandals involves a major state bank and came to a head Tuesday when police arrested 40 top-level Italian bankers and businessmen in Rome and 15 other Italian cities. In a related investigation on Thursday, judicial authorities ordered 44 politicians and businessmen to hand in their passports.
Those imprisoned, as well as 11 others who were either out of the country or whose whereabouts were unknown, were accused of misusing and embezzling funds belonging to Italcasse, the central credit institute of Italian municipal savings banks. The banks, which exist in most major Italian cities, currently hold about 30 percent of Italian bank deposits.
Also on Tuesday the Christian Democratic minister of the merchant marine, Franco Evangelisti, resigned after it appeared likely that the government would topple if he remained in his post. Evangelisti, once the right-hand man of former prime minister Guilio Andreotti, admitted that he accepted large sums of money -- reportedly $300,000 -- from three construction magnates who are among the accused in the Italcasse affair.
Evangelisti said last week that he had accepted the money to finance his political campaigns and his faction of the Christian Democratic Party. He said that many other Christian Democratic politicians had been financed similarly. One former Christian Democratic member of parliament is accused of having received more than $1 million in the affair.
When he resigned, Evangelisti denied that he had ever used political pressure to win bank credit for private individuals. Evangelisti's admission of having received money has caused indignation because Italy's political parties have been publicly financed since 1974.
"These things should not be allowed to happen," said Mimmo Cascavilla, the owner of a popular Roman restaurant, but he added that he was even more upset by a scandal involving 27 top players in Italian soccer, the country's national sport.
The players, including one of the country's most famous players, Paolo Rossi of the Perugia team, were notified that they were under investigation for accepting bribes from illegal bookmakers to throw games on which the players had placed bets.
The soccer investigation began when a fruit-and-vegetable vendor and a hotel owner, both bookmakers on the side, told police they had paid thousands of dollars to players who had not delivered the expected results.
"It's downright shameful," snapped Oreste, a barmann in a downtown cafe. He told how following reports of the Rome scandal he and other fans of "Lazio," one of the two Rome teams, went to a training session and called the players names. "Crooks, sell-outs, You're not worthy of wearing the club insignia," they yelled at those players involved in the investigation.
Despite the anger of soccer fans, many of whom bet regularly in the state-run soccer lottery, the Italcasse scandal has shocked much of the Italian political and financial world and dominates the media.
Those arrested include the top officials or former executives of about 20 local savings banks, several Italcasse officials, and a number of prominent businessmen, including Arcangelo Belli, the president of the Immobiliare construction firm that helped build the Watergate complex in Washington.