ROME – Italian organized crime prosecutors received a boost Friday from a top U.S. justice official in their campaign against a bill designed by Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s government to drastically tighten restrictions on electronic eavesdropping.
U.S. Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, who oversees the Justice Department’s criminal division, declined to directly comment on legislation, now in Parliament, that would severely limit the use of electronic eavesdropping, including wiretaps and video surveillance, and stiffen fines for publication of transcripts of wiretaps from ongoing investigations.
But Breuer added that U.S. prosecutors don’t want anything done that would choke off the flow of what he called “extraordinarily helpful” information from Italian organized crime prosecutors.
Pressed by reporters about the proposed legislation, Breuer said the Americans hope that “we would still have the same valuable information” that Italian organized crime investigators regularly share with their counterparts in the United States.
“From a prosecutor’s point of view, we don’t want anything to occur” that would hamper the Italians from doing their job in fighting organized crime, Breuer said.
He called wiretapping “an essential part” of such investigations.
Sicilian prosecutors say the law would make it nearly impossible to catch fugitive mafiosi or discover their crimes.
Political critics of Berlusconi contend the media mogul, whose business dealings have led to several corruption and other investigations against him, is looking out for his own interests. The premier, who denies all wrongdoing, claims he wants the law to safeguard the privacy of all citizens.
Italian Justice Minister Angelino Alfano issued a statement late Friday saying that judicial collaboration with Washington was “excellent” and fruitful, responding to reports about Brueur’s comments. He noted that Breuer had declined to comment directly about the proposed legislation.
“There is full agreement with Washington on the ways and objectives to cooperate against organized crime, as evidenced by the numerous contacts and meetings at all levels between the two countries,” Alfano said.