Palermo muddied by crime

June 19, 1998

The ITALIAN anti-Mafia commission, which is already investigating Messina University, Sicily (see left), is requesting an official inquiry into Palermo University following student complaints.

One department head has resigned in protest at the running of the university in the Sicilian capital. Gianni Puglisi, dean of teaching sciences, said: "The university is run by such a strongly rooted lodge that only intervention from outside can save it."

Professor Puglisi, who has worked at Palermo for 30 years, is moving to a private university in Milan. "There is mud not only in Messina," he said, in a clear reference to suspicion that organised crime, possibly the Mafia, exercises power there.

Matteo Bottari, a prominent Messina professor, was found riddled with bullets in his car in a mafia-style execution, and there is a record of knee-cappings, intimidations, and suspect contracts.

Palermo University, with 54,000 students, is facing an unprecedented financial crisis with accumulated debts of almost 200 million lire (Pounds 66 million). Goods to the value of 10 billion lire have been confiscated in lieu of debts.

Professor Puglisi said: "More than once I've been tempted to call for judicial intervention. In my letter of resignation to the rector and to university minister Luigi Berlinguer I have asked for this."

He also attacked Palermo's political establishment. He said: "We spend billions (of lire) to rent space for lectures, but the administration does not offer us its empty buildings. Relations with city hall continue to be filtered by the best-known families in the city."

He stopped short of naming names, but insinuated that powerful families in Palermo influence control of the university, its jobs and contracts, and the politics of the city in general.

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