November 24, 1980 - p. 59
A gusher of an oil scandal
Through all the financial and political scandals in Italy's recent history, the national financial police, the para-military Guardia di Finanza, has always been regarded as a singular bastion of rectitude. Thus when retired General Raffaele Giudice, the Guardia's esteemed commander from 1974 to 1978, was recently jailed as a suspected ringleader in a $2.2 billion oil-tax fraud, it was rather like discovering that Michelangelo painted by numbers. Last week, as the scandal spread, four other high-ranking Guardia officers were put under investigation, and Giudice's former chief of staff disappeared before he could be served with an arrest warrant.
The scandal is the country's biggest since the Lockheed bribery fiasco that forced President Giovanni Leone to resign two years ago. It has already brought almost 199 arrests, and has cast suspicion on the martyred figure of former Prime Minister Aldo Moro. Reason: his right-hand man Sereno Freato, 52, has been questioned about accumulating $17 million worth of investment properties during four years when he declared only $7,500 in annual taxable income. In addition, the scandal has also given the Communists and other opposition groups ammunition against the five-week-old government of Christian Democratic Prime Minister Arnaldo Forlani.
The allegations involve an elaborate plot to falsify the tax categories of petroleum products. One of the alleged masterminds was the multimillionaire oil company owner Bruno Musselli, 55, who has reportedly fled to Switzerland. Petroleum taxes in Italy are graduated; the tax on gasoline, for instance, is 30 times higher than that on heating oil. By forging the identifying document of a shipmentor, in some cases, switching the oilrefiners and distributors could pocket the illegal tax benefits. Then, said investigators, they would bribe Guardia officers, politicians, inspectors and truckers to keep quiet.
While Veneto magistrates delved into it over the years, the scheme was chronicled in some 200 articles that appeared in a small daily, La Tribuna, in the city of Treviso. One disgusted oilman in Rome also claims that "everyone in the industry knew for years." But no national disclosures were made until Giorgio Pisano, a senator in the neofascist Italian Social Movement (MSI) recently reeled of a series of charges on the senate floor.
As Finance Minister Francesco Reviglio promised the formation of a parliamentary commission of inquiry last week, he conceded that eventually as many as 2,000 people might become embroiled in the scandal.