Five senior Italian cardiologists and medical school teachers have been arrested for allegedly rigging competitive exams for the assignment of university teaching posts.
Those under house arrest on charges of criminal conspiracy, corruption, attempted extortion and perjury are: Livio Dei Cas, lecturer and head cardiologist at Brescia Hospital; Paolo Rizzon, founder of the School of Cardiology at Bari University; Mario Mariani, head of the cardiology department at Pisa University; Maurizio Guazzi of Milan University; and Luigi Padeletti of Florence University.
According to a 330-page report by the judge directing the investigation, the five cardiologists manipulated the national college of cardiology professors, which selects members of examining commissions, to make it amenable to their wishes. By doing so over several years, the accused succeeded in having their "lovers, sons and daughters, nephews and nieces, and assistants" chosen in about ten contests for teaching posts at Bari, Florence and Pisa.
The judge said the five "did not act alone but associated themselves with others to systematically predetermine the choice of teaching personnel".
Two other cardiologists have been charged with extortion but not arrested.
The investigation arose from a series of complaints by rejected candidates.
In one report, a candidate foretold who would be chosen at a 2002 competition. The judge began gathering evidence that confirmed the accusations.
The judge's report also notes "widespread malpractice in the university system".
An Italian surgeon who has studied and worked in Italy and abroad said: "If these cardiologists actually did what they are accused of, given the blind arrogance of some of the 'barons' I've run into, I would not be surprised if they were not aware that they were doing something immoral, illegal and detrimental to teaching."
* Gennaro Schettino, a professor of pharmacology at Genoa University and director of its neuroscience department, has been arrested for allegedly skimming public funds assigned to researchers under his authority. Those who wanted the professor's help in obtaining research funds had to pay a percentage back to him, the state prosecutor said.