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G8 corruption probe eyes the Vatican

L’Aquila G8 summit corruption probe investigates senior Vatican officials; meanwhile the Vatican newspaper beatifies “The Blues Brothers.” Italy sparks protests by cutting $30 billion. And officials probe why Mozzarella balls are mysteriously turning blue.


Top News: As the latest G-8 summit approaches in Canada, criticism is swirling that last year’s version of the event is already failing to deliver on its promises. Among the biggest problems: a $20 billion fund aimed at food security that so far contains just $880 million – around 4% of the promised total – and no progress at all on the target to provide universal access to HIV treatments by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the same summit, which was abruptly moved from a planned site on the island of Sardinia to the earthquake-stricken city of L’Aquila has sparked an internal investigation into reported corruption that has now reached the highest levels of the Vatican. Allegations that influence peddling and kickbacks were behind the 11th-hour decision to move the summit to L’Aquila have swirled for weeks but the latest news that the wrong doing may have allegedly involved highly visible figures such as former Italian Minister Pietro Lunardi and Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe have turned the story into front page news in Italy.

Amid the steady stream of news out of the Vatican lately came one unlikely nugget: L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s official newspaper, declared that John Landis’ cult classic film “The Blues Brothers” is a “Catholic Classic,” putting the work in a category with Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments,” “Jesus of Nazareth” from Franco Zeffirelli, and Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.” In its review of the film on the 30th anniversary of its release, the Vatican called the story that centered on the title characters played by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd raising money for the Catholic orphanage where they grew up “incredibly shrewd” and “rich with ideas.”

Money: As the worldwide financial crisis deepened, Italy became the latest country to announce severe austerity measures, with the aim of slicing around $30 billion off the country’s budget to help offset falling tax revenue. Italy said the move will help reduce the country’s debt level from 5.3% of the country’s gross domestic product last year to under the European Union cap of 3% of GDP by 2012. Italy’s Central Bank, however, suggested the country would still fall short of its goal, even as the move sparked protests from trade unions that said the plan cut too deep. Union workers planned a general strike to protest the plan on June 25.

Italy isn’t the only country on the peninsula worried about the economic climate. The tiny Republic of San Marino is complaining that Italian rules from last year aimed at limiting off shore tax havens are wreaking havoc on its economy. The mountainous land locked country of 27,000 residents, completely surrounded by Italian territory, said Italy has refused to monitor internal San Marino reforms and has kept the country on Italy’s so-called black list even after the European Union and the OECD removed it from theirs. Italy is by far San Marino’s largest trading partner.

Finally, Italian officials opened a probe into the reasons that some 70,000 balls of mozzarella cheese turned blue upon contact with the air. Authorities near the northern Italian city of Turin sent samples of the unfortunate cheese balls to labs for testing, but the alarm over health risks associated with the cheese sparked concerns over the impact the news could have on Italy’s $5.4 billion mozzarella industry, as well as calls for Italy to revisit labeling laws in order to facilitate a faster recall of problematic products.

Elsewhere: Upsets have swept through the early stages of the World Cup soccer tournament, but for defending champion Italy, a pair of early ties against perceived lightweights Paraguay and New Zealand have resulted in some harsh criticisms.

Italian coach Marcello Lippi, who led the azzuri to the 2006 title and was soon after named the 17th best soccer coach in history, was hailed as a hero when he left retirement to re-take control of the Italian national team two years ago. But all that has been forgotten amid the weak results of the team, with Lippi roundly criticized for making too many substitutions on the pitch and fielding a team that relies too heavily on 2006 World Cup stars. Without a drip of irony, some critics who blasted Lippi for not sticking with his game plan among his starting players have suggested the National Soccer Federation change their plan and fire the coach during the tournament.

A total 15.8 million Italians watched the Italian’s 1-1 draw against New Zealand Sunday, with an astonishing 68.4% of all the televisions in the country tuned in – high even by Italian standards.

For all the criticisms, though, Italy is still alive in the tournament and would likely just need another tie in their final game against Slovakia to pass through to the second round.