- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 22, 2020

MILAN (AP) - Seven Carabinieri officers were arrested in northern Italy Wednesday for allegedly helping drug dealers evade the country’s coronavirus lockdown to obtain supplies and for alleged abuses of power dating back several years, including the extortion and torture of suspects.

In an unprecedented action, prosecutors in the northern city of Piacenza, one of the places in Italy hardest-hit by the virus, closed down and sequestered the Carabinieri barracks where the accused officers operated. Six of the officers were jailed and the seventh was put under house arrest

‘’While the city of Piacenza was counting its many coronavirus dead, these Carabinieri were supplying drugs to dealers who were without due to the anti-COVID measures,’’ prosecutor Grazia Pradella said during a press conference.

The officers are accused of signing off on declarations that made it appear the drug dealers had been checked by authorities when they moved about during the lockdown. During Italy’s nationwide lockdown, residents were allowed to leave home only for reasons of absolute necessity.

They also are accused of mistreating and torturing suspects, behavior that Pradella likened to the methods of organized crime syndicates and said went at least as far back as 2017. The behavior was reported by another officer in Piacenza.

Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini said the ‘’very serious accusations’’ risked the reputation of the Carabinieri, an arm of the Italian military with domestic policing responsibilities. He pledged full cooperation.

Piacenza province has the third-highest COVID-19 death rate in Italy, the first European country where a coronavirus outbreak surged, after neighboring Cremona and nearby Bergamo.

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