April 11, 2008 / 12:37 PM / 12 years ago

Italy probes possible mafia-linked election fraud

ROME (Reuters) - Magistrates have opened an investigation into possible vote rigging by a mafia clan, suspected of tampering with ballots for this weekend’s election cast by Italians living abroad, investigators said on Friday.

Interior Minister Giuliano Amato said he had been alerted by investigators in Reggio Calabria, capital of the southern Calabria region which is home to one of Italy’s three crime syndicates. He added that controls had been tightened.

Roughly 3 million Italian expatriates are registered to vote for the April 13-14 election. Thursday was the deadline for them to return their ballots by mail to embassies and consular offices.

“I hope consuls never lose sight of those ballots, that they keep them under their beds until they are flown back to Italy on special flights,” Amato told reporters on Friday.

“I think the measures undertaken by the foreign ministry should prevent any problem,” he said.

He said Italian law barred him from giving any more details on the content of an ongoing investigation.

ANSA news agency said the probe in Reggio Calabria concerned 50,000 ballots in Latin America that were allegedly rigged by a Calabrian mafia clan to favor an unnamed Sicilian lawmaker.

“At this stage the probe is very delicate,” the news agency quoted state prosecutor Francesco Scuderi as saying, without giving further details.

Conservative leader Silvio Berlusconi, who is tipped to win the election, has said he fears vote rigging by the outgoing centre-left government. His rivals have dismissed this as a sign he is afraid he may not win.

Pledging transparency, Amato said that he had invited his centre-right predecessors at the interior ministry to oversee the announcement of results on Monday.

Reporting by Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Charles Dick

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