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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 March 2007, 11:16 GMT
Italian paparazzi in blackmail probe
By Christian Fraser
BBC News, Rome

Since the days of Fellini's La Dolce Vita the Italian paparazzi have had a notorious reputation. They are the professional stalkers with the telephoto lenses.

The word paparazzi was introduced to the world by the 1960s film La Dolce Vita

But now the techniques they and their agents employ have become the subject of an extraordinary investigation.

Italian prosecutors claim to have found evidence that top actors, politicians and sportsmen have paid huge sums of money to stop pictures appearing in the press.

One of 11 men arrested is Fabrizio Corona, the so-called "king of the paparazzi".

He is being investigated for extortion and money laundering.

It is alleged he was working as the negotiator between paparazzi photographers and the people to be blackmailed.

Footballers

Prosecutors say they were alerted to his activities during a wider investigation into the supply of call girls and cocaine to exclusive parties.

Roma captain  Francesco Totti
Court documents say Francesco Totti paid for photographs
One set of photographs he was selling allegedly showed Francesco Totti, the captain of Roma football club, visiting the house of a well-known TV television presenter Flavia Vento.

According to court documents, the footballer paid euros 50,000 (34,100; US$66,000) to stop the publication of the photos because his wife was pregnant.

On Wednesday, the newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport devoted a full page to what it said were transcripts of interrogations between investigators and three other footballers, who were said to have been bribed.

They had reportedly been photographed with women in night clubs.

The Juventus striker David Trezeguet is said to be one of them.

He allegedly handed over euros 25,000.

Prosecutors in Turin, who have been asked to investigate, say he was approached by an intermediary, who police are now trying to find.

'Scandal'

The money he paid was allegedly deposited in Mr Corona's bank account.

The photo showed Mr Trezeguet leaving a disco with a girl.

"She was a friend who I have known for along time and it was normal that she would get in the car with me," Mr Trezeguet told prosecutors.

Former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi
Silvio Berlusconi daughter says she has paid some money
"I brought her home and then I went to my hotel. The photos were nothing - but they maybe they were something they could have built a story around."

Mr Trezeguet said Mr Corona had told him: "It is better that you buy them, because here in Italy they will make a scandal out of it anyway."

Some well-known personalities have refused to pay up.

Christian Vieri, the former Italy player, is said to have refused to pay as did Lapo Elkann, a member of the Fiat-owning Agnelli family and a recovering drug addict. He was told that a middle-aged transvestite with whom he had taken drugs would give an explosive interview unless he handed over euros 200,000.

The agent representing Mr Elkann refused to pay up.

But former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's 22-year-old daughter, Barbara, said she had paid some euros 20,000 for a photograph which showed her coming out of a Milan nightclub, apparently drunk and in a "compromising" situation with an un-named man.

Ms Berlusconi, told the lead prosecutor Henry John Woodcock, that the payment had been arranged by her family's PR manager.

It is reported than when Mr Berlusconi, who is also Italy's richest man, asked his daughter where the money had gone, she told him: "Please, this is a favour I am asking you to do."

"He understood that I was a little embarrassed," she said. "And he didn't ask me anything else about it." The matter was dropped.

Mr Corona, who was arrested with two others agents, has told prosecutors he gave celebrities the chance to buy pictures and gossip at the same rates he would have sold them to publications.

"I am not a paparazzo," said Mr Corona.

"There is nothing illegal in what I did. To sell a photographic service to those who want it - so that it doesn't get out - is not blackmail, it's the market.

"We did not extort anything from anybody."

Investigators tapping his phones overheard him tell his wife: "Yes it's true, I ruin lives, I am a piece of s*** and I don't even feel guilty anymore."

It is an investigation which drags in more and more high profile names, and Mr Corona is not the only one facing charges.

A high-profile pornographic film director Riccardo Schicchi, has been put under house arrest, accused of supplying businessmen with girls for sex, while Lele Mora, Italy's top talent agent has been warned not to leave the country.


SEE ALSO
Living under the paparazzi's gaze
29 Jul 06 |  Entertainment
Schwarzenegger tackles paparazzi
03 Oct 05 |  Entertainment



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