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Wednesday, 22 March, 2000, 23:43 GMT
Blow in fight against Mafia
Arrested:  Giovanni Lembo and Marcello Mondello
Arrested: Giovanni Lembo and Marcello Mondello
By David Willey in Rome

Italy's fight against Mafia crime in Sicily has suffered a severe setback with the arrest of two judges and an investigation into the activities of four others suspected of collusion with the Mafia.

The arrest of Giovanni Lembo - a judge who works in the prosecutor's office in Mesina in Sicily - and another retired trial judge, Marcello Mondelo, on charges of collusion with the Mafia, was followed by other disturbing revelations.

Four other members of the judiciary are under investigation on similar charges while the court house in Mesina was the scene of a daring drug robbery at the weekend.

News of the drug theft - 2kg of cocaine and heroin - previously seized by police and locked away in the courthouse, leaked out later.

Italy's justice minister says he is very concerned at the developments and called on the government to speed up new legislation restricting the use of Mafia turncoats as police informers.

Leniency for information

More than 1,000 former criminals are at present taking part in a witness protection programme granting leniency in exchange for information leading to further Mafia convictions.

car bomb in Palermo
Sicily is used to Mafia violence
There was criticism earlier this month of a decision to allow Giovanni Brusca, a convicted Mafia murderer, to receive a salary while in jail, in exchange for information.

Judge Lembo is accused of having helped another convicted Mafia gangster to circulate freely in Sicily while he was supposed to be held in custody.

This particular turncoat was allowed by the judge to drive around Sicily in an expensive Ferrari when all his personal assets were to have been confiscated by the authorities.

He also shared meals with prosecutors, bodyguards and police drivers.

About 20 members of the Italian judiciary have been charged with corruption during the past decade.

A curtain of silence surrounds most of these investigations.

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19 Jul 98 | Europe
Mafiosi jailed for life
29 Sep 99 | Europe
The Mafia's 'baby killers'
21 Mar 99 | Europe
Rally in Mafia stronghold
19 Jan 99 | From Our Own Correspondent
Living with the Mafia
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