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Wednesday, August 20 2014 @ 04:47 AM EDT

Journalist Accused Of Bribing President of Panama Arrested in Italy

CorruptionThe former director of the Italian newspaper Avanti, businessman Valter Lavitola, accused of corruption and of having bribed the former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the President of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, was arrested Monday in Italy after being a fugitive for six months in Latin America. Lavitola was arrested at the Leonardo Da Vinci airport in Rome as he arrived on a flight from Buenos Aires and was immediately taken to Poggioreale prison in Naples (south).

According to judicial sources close to the prosecutors in Naples who are investigating the case, Henry John Woodcock and Vicenzo Piscitelli, quoted by the Italian media, Lavitola is accused of having presented himself as an "intermediary" of the President of Panama and the Panamanian authorities to conduct "unlawful negotiations" in that country, including the construction of four prisons. Lavitola is accused of alleged "international corruption" along with twelve other people, including Senator Sergio De Gregorio.

The Embassy of Panama in Italy, contacted by the AFP, declined to comment on the case.

The journalist and businessman is also accused of having organized, together with his colleague Giampaolo Tarantino, a network of luxury prostitutes to participate in the controversial private parties of Berlusconi. And also the "misuse" of about 20 million euros of public funding for the newspaper L'Avanti. The businessman was arrested on 1 September 2011 by order of the court of Naples for the alleged extortion against Berlusconi - for not revealing details of his parties with prostitutes.

According to the indictment, the two entrepreneurs initially aspired to get multi million dollar contracts overseas through Berlusconi, and to achieve business procurement through a "complex network of corruption" of Panamanian public officials and private entrepreneurs. After the scandal broke about Berlusconi's private parties with the presence of a minor, the two businessmen ended up asking for some 800,000 euros from the political leader to remain silent.

According the same source, Lavitola and his Panamanian partners, among them Francisco Martinelli, the president's cousin, have been accused of obtaining the contract from the Panamanian government for the construction of prisons, after promising the sum of $28 million dollars and a helicopter worth $8 million dollars to the head of the Latin American country. In the list of recipients of bribes are, besides the President Martinelli, the Panamanian Minister of Justice, Roxana Mendez, and other political figures, says the prosecution.

"Part of the money for the Panamanian president was delivered in a suitcase," says the indictment, which states there were two deliveries of 530,000 euros and 140,000 euros. President Martinelli and the other Panamanian officials cannot be punished by the Italian justice system and they are considered to be subjects that are "passive and not active" in corruption, according to international conventions. For the investigators, the business with Panama vanished due to Lavitola's legal problems in Italy related to Berlusconi.

According to the prosecutors in Naples, Lavitola is an "expert in blackmail" and enjoyed important contacts within Finmeccanica, the second largest public industrial group of the peninsula, an expert in sectors such as aeronautics, defense electronics, energy and transport, which in turn controls the companies Selex, Augusta Westland and Telespazio Brasile, with interests in Panama. The formalization of contracts between the government of Panama and the Italian conglomerate to acquire helicopters, radar and a digital map was made in August 2010. The newspaper Il Corriere della Sera argues that subsidiaries of Finmeccanica relied on the company Agafea, based in Panama and owned by Lavitola, for their operations. (

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