Sex scandal denies Italian left the moral high ground


AS TIMING goes, this was one scandal that could hardly have come at a worse moment. Just as the supporters of Italy’s largest opposition party, the Democratic Party (PD), were preparing to elect a new leader in nationwide primaries, the party faithful were last weekend rocked by a sex and drugs scandal involving Piero Marrazzo, the centre-left president of Lazio, the region around the capital Rome.

In theory, the PD supporters were called on yesterday to pick a new leader in an election prompted by the resignation last February of Walter Veltroni, the man who lost to prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in the 2008 general election. Mr Veltroni’s resignation had been prompted by his fifth-straight electoral defeat by Mr Berlusconi, this time in Sardinian regional elections.

Since then the party has been led on an interim basis by Dario Franceschini who, along with Pier Luigi Bersani and Ignazio Marino, contested yesterday’s leadership contest.

However, just at a moment when the centre-left might have liked to occupy a high moral ground totally at odds with the image of scandal-plagued Mr Berlusconi, an ugly little skeleton emerged from the PD cupboard.

Last Saturday, former TV presenter Mr Marrazzo resigned his position following allegations that he had paid €80,000 to four carabinieri blackmailers in return for their silence about his regular frequenting of transsexual prostitutes in the Via Cassia area of Rome. The four policemen, who were arrested last Thursday, are also believed to have attempted to sell a short film, shot on a mobile phone, in which Mr Marrazzo is seen participating in “erotic games” with a viados, transsexual prostitute.

Ironically, many of Mr Marrazzo’s encounters of the transsexual kind took place in an apartment in Via Gradoli, a street that featured in the Red Brigade kidnapping and subsequent killing in 1978 of former Christian Democrat prime minister Aldo Moro. Mario Moretti, one of the founders of the Red Brigade and the man who killed Aldo Moro used an apartment in Via Gradoli as a base prior to the kidnapping.

Italian dailies yesterday carried interviews with various members of the Rome transsexual community who claimed that Mr Marazzo was a regular, much-prized client who would pay up to €3,000 for a “session”. All of the viados interviewed reported that their encounters with Mr Marrazzo also involved the consumption of cocaine.

Furthermore, Via Gradoli residents claimed that Mr Marrazzo regularly used his auto blu (state car), complete with his police escort, when visiting the prostitutes.

Wrong-footed by this embarrassing scandal, the three leadership candidates tried to put a brave face on matters by issuing a joint statement which called Mr Marazzo’s resignation “an act of responsibility”.

This was a clear reference to Mr Berlusconi, who despite his involvement in a succession of sexual scandals this summer, has steadfastly refused to resign.

Senior party figure, former prime minister Massimo D’Alema, put it this way: “The private behaviour of a public figure has a public relevance and this is a principle that applies to everyone, to the prime minister and to the president of the region of Lazio.”

Needless to say, many commentators point out the potentially suspect nature of the timing of this latest scandal, coming on a weekend of strategic importance for the centre-left.