Cocaine Drug Scandal At Italy's Parliament
Oct. 12 -- Imagine if 15 American congressmen tested positive for using cocaine.
Then another dozen were found to have smoked hash. And then imagine that the evidence came from an experiment by a television show.
Well, it's happened in Italy after a popular TV program that specializes in satire took it to another level.
No strangers to scandal, or backlash, the nation's honorable members of parliament are front-page news again. This time, over drug use and abuse.
The TV show "Le Iene" - The Hyenas - is famous for its ploys of playful entrapment.
This sting stunt pretended to interview 50 politicians about next year's budget.
What the politicians didn't know was that the "makeup artist," from a nonexistent satellite channel, had collected body cells during the preinterview brow wipe.
The cells were secretly used to test the politicians for drugs.
The results indicated that of the 50 tested, close to a third had indulged within the previous 36 hours - four tested positive for cocaine, 12 for marijuana.
"Most of them take drugs. Cocaine is pretty familiar, but some of them just use hashish," said Marco Ferrarotti, an Italian sociologist and author.
Ferrarotti is known for his own, often sarcastic, take on Italian politics.
Ferrarotti, who was a member of parliament in the early '60s, told ABC News: "The great worry of a politician is to be re-elected, and nowadays there is insecurity so no wonder that they might take some help, from chemicals or whatever."
He said it was pretty hard for him to be scandalized by the news.
Incredibly, the controversial program hasn't aired yet. Eager to draw attention to its scoop, and no doubt hoping to attract viewers for the broadcast, "Le Iene" made a preview announcement of its sensational findings.
The lawmakers were not amused and lobbied, quite furiously, to the privacy authority to prevent the show from airing, saying the tests were done in an illicit and illegal manner.
The program was duly suspended, which only added to the controversy. And of course it added fuel to Italy's longstanding political feud.
The show is broadcast on the Italian TV network Mediaset, which just happens to be owned by the former and flamboyant Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi.
Berlusconi's center-right government fell recently to Romano Prodi's center-left coalition.
The center left, now the government, suspects there might be a bit of revenge involved.
The "right" side of the political spectrum - with leading voices like Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini - accuses the government of journalistic censorship.
One of the last gasps of Berlusconi's dying government was to pass new drug laws.
The level of nationwide drug abuse was highlighted in a survey last year.
Scientists discovered that the country's biggest river, the Po, carried the equivalent of about 8 pounds, 13 ounces of cocaine a day, with a street value of about $37,000.
The cornerstone of the former government's legislation is "zero tolerance" of all types of drugs.
In that context, the irony of the politicians' drug scandal has not been lost on anyone.
The leader of Italy's Green Party and the country's environment minister, Alfonso Scanio, would like to see the legislation changed, saying, "absurd laws have been passed, which punish youngsters for smoking a joint, and then we find out that politicians are taking too much cocaine."
Scanio's last three words have left some wondering whether he actually meant that a little cocaine might be acceptable.
Meanwhile, lawmakers from across the political spectrum have stepped willingly into the spotlight to declare they are drug free.
The identities of the 50 who were tested remain unknown, but few here believe that list will stay a secret for long.
There is also serious talk now about introducing a law calling for compulsory drug tests for all members of the Senate and the House.
The former speaker of Italy's parliament, Pierferdinando Casini, shouldered the indignation of a nation, saying: "Italian citizens have the right to know if the lawmakers they've elected are drug addicts or not."
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