- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 6, 2009


Secret stash of art masterpieces seized

ROME | Italian tax police said Saturday they had seized works by Van Gogh, Picasso, Cezanne and other giants of art in a crackdown on assets hidden by the disgraced founder of the collapsed dairy company Parmalat.

Authorities estimated the 19 masterpieces stashed away in attics and basements were valued at $150 million.

Parma Prosecutor Gerardo Laguardia said that, based on wiretapped phone conversations, officials believed at least one of the paintings was about to be sold and raided three apartments in the area of Parma, near Parmalat’s headquarters.

Italian courts have ruled that Parmalat founder Calisto Tanzi bore the brunt of responsibility for the 2003 collapse of Parmalat. The dairy and juice multinational was brought down by billions of dollars of debt in fraudulent bankruptcy. Many small investors losing life savings were among some 40,000 defrauded bondholders.

Tanzi was convicted by a Milan court last year of market-rigging and other charges in one of multiple probes.

For years after the collapse, Tanzi was rumored to have had a “hidden treasure” somewhere. On Nov. 29, a state TV show claimed Tanzi had amassed artwork to try to shelter himself from the effects of Parmalat’s imminent collapse.


Mafia’s No. 2 nabbed in Sicily

ROME | Police captured Cosa Nostra’s No. 2 man in a raid in Sicily and nabbed another Mafia fugitive strolling down a Milan street Saturday, as authorities crossed more names off the nation’s most wanted list, Italy’s interior minister said.

Convicted Mafioso Gianni Nicchi, captured in the Sicilian city of Palermo, is a “young, dangerous, ambitious, pitiless killer,” Minister Roberto Maroni said. Police found Nicchi, 28, hiding in an apartment in Palermo. News reports said he tried to flee.

Investigators say Nicchi quickly climbed to the top of Palermo-based crime families after the arrest a few years ago of mob boss Salvatore Lo Piccolo. Nicchi, a fugitive since 2006, was convicted last year of extortion and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Also Saturday, authorities in Milan arrested Gaetano Fidanzati, 74, as he strolled down a street in the heart of Italy’s financial capital, police said. Mr. Fidanzati is a reputed longtime Cosa Nostra boss of a Palermo crime clan and has been a fugitive for two years, investigators said.

With the latest arrests, police have captured 17 of the fugitives on Italy’s 30 most-wanted list in a span of few months, Mr. Maroni said.


Store pulls plug on N. Korean jeans

STOCKHOLM | A department store on Saturday removed a new line of North Korean-made designer jeans from its shelves, saying it wants to avoid courting controversy through ties with the isolated communist nation.

The PUB department store’s management had not been informed that the label would be carried in its space, and pulled the plug when it became aware of it, said Rene Stephansen, the store’s director.

The Noko Jeans line is the brainchild of three Swedish entrepreneurs who hoped their label would help break North Korea’s isolation through increased trade with the West. The jeans come only in black, partly because blue jeans are associated with the United States and are stigmatized in North Korea.

North Korea, led with absolute authority by leader Kim Jong-il, is one of the most closed countries in the world. Foreigners - and foreign goods - are largely seen as a threat by the communist regime.

Jeans have been banned in the country for years because they are considered a symbol of U.S. imperialism. In 2005, the regime also urged the country’s women to refrain from wearing trousers.


Peacekeepers killed in Darfur attack

KHARTOUM | Two Rwandan peacekeepers were fatally shot and one wounded in Sudan’s Darfur region on Saturday, in the second deadly attack on the contingent in 24 hours, the force said.

The peacekeepers were distributing water in a displacement camp when at least one armed man walked up and opened fire without warning, the spokesman for the joint U.N./African Union force, Kemal Saiki, told Reuters news agency.


Nation mourns terrorist victims

RAWALPINDI | Pakistan on Saturday mourned those killed near the country’s military headquarters in an attack that raised serious questions over how militants penetrated the security of the regional nuclear power.

Two suicide bombers blew themselves up inside a mosque and two other militants opened fire on worshippers in the garrison town of Rawalpindi on Friday, after easily entering what should be one of the most secure areas in Pakistan.

The attack killed at least 40 people, including high-ranking military officials, relatives and children.

Government ministers and military leaders, including army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, attended the funerals. Even relatives of fallen officers had to get through metal detectors and past sniffer dogs, and there were concrete barriers along a one-kilometer road leading to the funeral ground.


Ailing king asks unity on birthday

BANGKOK | King Bhumibol Adulyadej, making his first public comments since being hospitalized, marked his 82nd birthday Saturday with a call for peace and stability in Thailand, a country that has been rocked by anti-government protests.

Thousands of well-wishers waving Thai flags cheered, cried and chanted “Song phra charoen,” or “Long live the king,” as the monarch’s motorcade made its way to the Grand Palace from the Bangkok hospital where he has been staying since Sept. 19.

Looking alert but tired and showing little expression, the king returned to the hospital after briefly appearing in front of members of the royal family, government officials and lawmakers.

Bhumibol has been on the throne for 63 years. He is the world’s longest-reigning monarch.

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