Before Italy's Chamber of Deputies, Premier Mario Scelba spoke solemnly of affairs of statetaxes and governmental reform, his government's support of EDC, the dangers of Communism and neo-Fascism. But the immediate threat to his new regime involved none of these, nor did it lie within the walls of the chamber. It came from a courtroom a few blocks away, where, as Scelba urged the Deputies to confirm his Cabinet, there unfolded an unsavory story of corruption in high places, of playgirls and midnight orgies and expensive decadence revolving around the figure of a marchese-come-lately named Ugo Montagna.
Scelba won his vote of confidence as expected, 300 to 283, and for the first time in three months, Italy had a govern ment able to command a narrow majority in parliament. But it might not be for long. The case of Montagna had rocked Italy, and it could well bring down the government. For the case displayed, for all to see, the decadence that infects too much of Italy's moneyed classes, the irresponsibility of privilege that embitters even men of good will.
The Body on the Sand. The story be gan last April, when the body of plump, pretty Wilma Montesi, 21, was found on the seashore sands of Ostia, near Rome, clad only in a blouse and a pair of silk panties embroidered with teddy bears (TIME, Feb. 15). Police declared that Wilma had died by accidental drowning. Months later, brash young neo-Fascist Editor Silvano Muto printed a sensational charge in his monthly magazine Attua-lita. Wilma had not gone to Ostia, he said, but to a swank hunting lodge in nearby Capocotto, where wild orgies were conducted by a Roman nobleman who ran a narcotics ring. Wilma, said Attualita, apparently passed out from too much opium and was thrown on the beach by her companion and left to drown.
The public prosecutor promptly haled Muto into court under an old Fascist law against spreading "false and adulterated news to perturb the public order." Challenged to prove his story, Muto accepted, declared that the ringleader was the Marchese Ugo Montagna di San Bartolomeo, one of Rome society's brightest luminaries. The hunting lodge was run by the St. Hubert Club, whose membership list included the Pope's personal physician, high Vatican lay officials, and Piero Piccioni, jazz-pianist son of Scelba's Foreign Minister. Wilma was allegedly seen in a car like young Piccioni's black Alfa Romeo just before her death. His chief informants, said Muto, were two girls who had participated in the dope parties.
Enter La Caglio. One of the girls was pretty, well-groomed Anna Maria Moneta Caglio. She took the stand to back up Muto's charges, but her words painted a picture of favoritism and official corruption with ramifications reaching far beyond the death of Wilma Montesi.