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World - Europe

Italian investigators widen probe into rigged lottery drawings

Games in Rome, Genoa, Bologna investigated; 9 arrested in Milan

January 16, 1999
Web posted at: 6:28 p.m. EST (2328 GMT)

MILAN, Italy (CNN) -- Italian investigators Saturday widened their probe into lottery corruption from the game in Milan to those in Rome, Genoa, Bologna and other cities, as one of the country's most popular pastimes comes under increased scrutiny.

Police this week arrested nine people, including a police officer and three officials of the Finance Ministry, for allegedly rigging lottery drawings in Milan by bribing the children who pick the numbers. Police say the tainted drawings stretch back at least six years.

On Saturday, the alleged ringleader, Giuseppe Aliberti, broke down in tears while discussing his role in the scheme.

"I'm a broken man who got caught up in a game that was much bigger than me," said Aliberti, who claimed that what started off as a small scam between family and friends got overtaken by organized criminals who began threatening him. He said he was willing to give back part of the 500 million lire ($300,000) that he made from the scheme.

Every major city in Italy has its own lottery drawing, part of a national lottery system. In Milan, numbers are put inside ball-shaped containers and the winning numbers drawn by blindfolded children.

Investigators say those involved in the scheme used various means to ensure that certain numbers would be picked.

Blindfolds were loosened and certain balls covered with a shiny varnish that could be seen beneath the blindfolds. Balls were also heated or frozen so that the children could pick them out by touch. In one case, investigators say, a ball was so hot that a child's hand was burned.

One of the children who took part in the rigged drawings, named in the media as Angela to protect her identity, told newspapers that Aliberti sat next to her at the drawings, telling her, "It's important for us. We've got a lot of money at stake."

"It was complicated getting the right ball," she said. "Some children were better than me, and they were rewarded with millions of lire, 3 or 4 million." Four million lire is about $2,400.

To reassure the public, lottery officials decided to film Saturday night's drawing in Milan. Other steps are being considered, including broadcasting drawings live and having retired police officers draw the numbers.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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