Italy shocked by child pornography scandal


Italy is coming to grips with an unprecedented paedophilia scandal whose repercussions rocked parliament and led to resignations at state television.

The scandal, which dominated news bulletins and newspapers yesterday, arose following a wave of arrests as part of a big investigation of a paedophile ring that used the Internet.

Eight people were arrested in Italy and three in Russia, and police said 1,700 people were being investigated in Italy on suspicion of having bought child pornography on the Internet.

The scandal turned into a political storm on Wednesday night when two channels of the state broadcaster RAI ran graphic footage of child pornography during prime-time news programmes watched by families.

Five RAI journalists, including two editors-in-chief, resigned following a heated parliamentary debate at which the opposition, which sees RAI as a mouthpiece for the governing centre-left coalition, demanded resignations.

"What happened is absolutely unforgivable", said the former prime minister and media magnate, Mr Silvio Berlusconi, head of the centre-right opposition, whose own private television channels did not run the footage.

One part of the footage on Wednesday night showed a man reclined on a floor while he forced a nude boy to sit on him.

The Communications Minister, Mr Salvatore Cardinale, said magistrates had begun an investigation and were pondering whether to press criminal charges against the journalists.

"The Supermarket of Horrors" was the title used by Rome's La Repubblica newspaper, which dedicated three pages to the story of how Italians ordered videos, CDs and DVD (Digital Video Discs), including footage of children abused until they died.

In an editorial entitled "The Silence of the Lambs", Turin's La Stampa said it was "frightening" that at least 1,700 Italians were being investigated for allegedly ordering material from an organisation based in Russia.

"They are links in a chain of monsters", La Stampa said. "They say good morning to you, talk about the health of their children, about politics, and all the while an evil film is running through their brain," La Stampa said. "From our comfortable seat in life . . . we never could have imagined that thousands of well-off adults, integrated and even cultured, find pleasure in seeing children tortured and killed," the Corriere della Sera said in a front-page editorial.

Naples-based police specialising in Internet crime said some 600 homes in Italy were searched earlier on Wednesday and eight people were arrested on charges of possessing and trading in child pornography, all of which was from Russia. They said three people in Russia ran an operation to kidnap children from orphanages, circuses and public parks and film them while they were forced to commit sexual acts.

The packages ordered on the Internet were intercepted when they arrived by mail and were repacked. They were then delivered to the addressees by undercover police officers disguised as postal workers and carrying hidden cameras.

The material cost between $400 and $6,000 for each video or disc depending on the type of film the customer wanted; the more horrific the more costly.

The service was divided into several categories. SNIPE was the term given by the ring for videos of children filmed nude without their knowledge, mostly in department store dressing rooms, police said. CP was the code word for ordering an item from a paedophile's "private collection".

The most gruesome, police said, was coded "Necros Pedo", in which children were raped and tortured to death.