Page last updated at 15:27 GMT, Monday, 9 June 2008 16:27 UK

Medics held in Italy murder probe

By Mark Duff
BBC News, Milan

Operation room scene
Investigators say staff at the clinic falsified medical tests

An alleged plot by Italian doctors to carry out unnecessary operations in order to make more money has led to the death of five patients, police say.

Two senior doctors at the Santa Rita private clinic in Milan have been arrested on suspicion of murder.

Eleven others, including the director of the clinic, have been put under house arrest.

They are being held on suspicion of offences including manslaughter, bodily harm and health-care system fraud.

Police say five elderly patients died after undergoing unnecessary operations.

Among the victims was an elderly woman who died after being subjected to three operations to remove a tumour when one should have been enough.

Police say she was so weakened by repeated surgery that she died.

Phone taps crucial

Investigators say staff at the clinic falsified medical tests in order to get the go-ahead for the operations.

In some cases, they say, staff boosted their monthly income by as much as 25,000 euros (20,000).

Prosecutors say that phone taps were crucial in exposing the scandal.

Their use is a hot political issue in Italy at the moment.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has promised to restrict their use to terrorism and Mafia cases - but magistrates say they are also vital to the investigation of other serious crimes, such as bribery and corruption.

There is almost universal agreement that the abuse of phone taps - often to publish embarrassing personal conversations - should be stopped.

But critics of Mr Berlusconi's plan say that without them, several recent banking and sporting scandals would not have come to light.

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