The Sicily of the Middle East

Two cases involve mafia connections and high-ranking politicians

Silvio Berlusconi
Our long lost cousin? Battlelight | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 2.0

Yet another arrest of an Italian politician involves Lebanon. Last week, Italian authorities arrested former minister Claudio Scajola on charges of helping Sicilian MP Amedeo Matacena escape to the Middle East after he was convicted for aiding the mafia. Matacena, also a member of former premier Silvio Berlusconi’s political party, is now free after being arrested in Dubai, although he is banned from leaving the Emirates. According to Italian police investigations, Scajola has since been allegedly trying to help Matacena reach Beirut through a network of political connections in Lebanon.

For the second time in just a few weeks, former Lebanese president Amine Gemayel’s name appears in the police investigation. Italy’s anti-mafia police found a letter to Scajola from a sender they believe to be Amine Gemayel. The letter reassures Scajola, saying that the person he is trying to help — thought to be Matacena — will be able to obtain documents to travel to Lebanon, and implying he will benefit from the same freedoms here as in Dubai. The sender adds that they had to wait until the formation of a new government in Lebanon to make this happen.

The case is reminiscent of Gemayel’s alleged involvement in Marcello Dell’Utri’s story. Berlusconi supposedly claimed that he had sent his ally Dell’Utri to Lebanon to help Gemayel’s bid for the presidency following a request from Russian President Vladimir Putin. The former Lebanese president denied any involvement in the ordeal.

Dell’Utri has been in custody since his arrest a month ago. On May 9, an Italian court issued a final ruling confirming a 7-year prison sentence for mafia association against the 72-year old Sicilian. And earlier this week, Lebanese public prosecutor Nada al-Asmar authorized Dell’Utri’s extradition, a major step towards his repatriation.

The governments of both Italy and Lebanon are now under pressure over two cases with striking similarities — and which allege to involve high-ranking politicians from both sides.

Tiziana Cauli is a Lebanon-based Italian journalist specializing in real estate and business