The Italian government recently denied a report in the The Times, London, that it had handed over £11 million in ransom money to obtain the release of three Italian women kidnapped in Iraq. The controversial report said that Italy paid $6 million for the release of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, kidnapped in February 2005 and freed a month later; and $5 million for the release of two female aid workers, Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, who were seized in September 2004 and held for 20 days. According to The Times, incriminating documents had also been seen by Western diplomats, who were angry because they believed the actions of the Italian government risked encouraging the kidnapping of foreigners in Iraq.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Pasquale Terracciano said, ‘I can only repeat what the foreign minister and other members of the government at the time have said more than once, that the Italian government did not pay any ransoms.’ The French government joined Italy on Monday in denying similar ransom allegations. Italy has repeatedly denied media reports that it has handed over cash to obtain the release of abducted Italians. The former commissioner of the Italian Red Cross (CRI), Maurizio Scelli, also denied The Times report. He repeated his version that two of the women were released in exchange for CRI medical care for wounded and sick Iraqis, particularly children. Scelli had triggered a storm in August 2005 when he first said the CRI had treated four presumed Iraqi terrorists and four of their children to secure the release of Pari and Torretta. Scelli said the US had not been informed of the operation while the Italian government, led by then premier Silvio Berlusconi, was only told ‘informally’. Berlusconi subsequently stressed that neither the government nor any of its offices had ‘influenced or conditioned’ the CRI’s actions which were ‘fully autonomous’.