ROME — The Italian Navy has beefed up its oversight of contracting procedures following two successive kickback probes and a series of arrests at its Taranto naval base.
An elaborate police surveillance operation led to the arrest on Sept. 14 of Giovanni Di Guardo, an official at the base involved in logistics contracting.
Di Guardo was allegedly caught red-handed taking a €2,500 (US $2,788) bribe from the boss of a local firm competing for an €11.4 million cleaning contract at the base.
Police believe the payment was the first installment of a €200,000 bribe in addition to an Audi SUV.
Investigators were able to track the negotiation of the alleged bribe after infecting Di Guardo's smartphone with a virus, which allowed them to listen into his calls.
Transcripts of the wiretaps, which were published by Italian newspaper La Repubblica, revealed how Di Guardo celebrated the receipt of the bribe with his Romanian girlfriend.
He also explained to the alleged bribe payer, Vincenzo Pastore, that he would channel the money through an intermediary in Malta and onto the account in Romania of his partner, who would then channel it back into Italy to avoid arousing suspicion.
Following the arrest of Di Guardo, police also arrested Navy official Francesca Mola, 31, who worked with Di Guardo on tendering and is suspected of taking an active part in the organization of the bribe.
Police believe Mola helped the bribe-paying entrepreneur to improve the quality of his bid to make it a worthy winner of the tender.
She allegedly passed on details of a superior bid received, to allow the firm to steal the best parts.
"I recommend you don’t copy all of it, otherwise we will all end up in jail," she allegedly joked in one conversation intercepted by police.
Di Guardo was recorded telling his partner that he had given Mola the job as his assistant "because she likes money."
Now under arrest, Mola has denied any wrongdoing.
Di Guardo was brought in by the Navy to clean up contracting practices at Taranto following a previous round of seven arrests of senior officials at the base last year who had allegedly demanded 10 percent kickbacks from local firms vying for contracts.
The tradition of demanding bribes worth 10 percent of the value of contracts being competed for had allegedly been handed on over the course of a decade to new officials arriving as part of staff rotation.
The probe was launched in March 2014 after an official was caught pocketing a €2,000 bribe from a contractor who had previously alerted police.
The contractor complained to police he had been asked to hand over €150,000 in bribes over a number of years to win contracts for the disposal of bilge water in Navy vessels.
Searching the official’s house, police found €44,000 in cash and USB flash drives containing lists of alleged bribes paid.
The officials arrested are due to stand trial this year.
In the wake of the latest, second probe, involving Di Guardo, the Italian Navy issued a statement on Sept. 15 claiming that it fully supported the work of investigators and "has increased internal inspections and controls aimed at preventing and tackling corruption and guaranteeing maximum transparency and the safeguarding of personnel who serve every day with a spirit of sacrifice and sense of state, undertaking their duties even risking their lives."