by de Gondi
Wed Feb 22nd, 2006 at 08:26:46 PM EST
Transcripts of interrogation sessions of the key figures in the Niger forgeries case have been leaked to the press. Il Giornale, owned by the Berlusconi family, has published four articles with excerpts, authored by Gian Marco Chiocci and Mario Secchi, since last Friday .
Franco Ionta, head prosecutor at the Rome Procura has been in charge of the Niger forgeries investigation since the case broke in 2003. Ionta is well known for his tight-lipped control of investigations. It comes as a surprise that testimony of this importance has been revealed. Until the case is closed and judged in a preliminary hearing, evidence and testimony is bound under secrecy.
According to Italian law, a suspect or witness cannot provide testimony without the presence of a lawyer nominated by himself or court-appointed in case of refusal to be assisted. Testimony gathered without the presence of a defence lawyer has no validity before the law.
What is noteworthy beyond the publication of the transcripts is the scoop that reveals Rocco Martino's secret tapings of his conversations with key figures in the Niger caper.
The following transcripts and summaries will be posted below, as I translate them:
1. Interrogation sessions of Rocco Martino, a key figure in the forgeries case;
2. Interrogation sessions of Colonel Antonio Nucera, a retired SISMI officer;
3. Interrogation sessions of "La Signora", an ex-SISMI informant working in the Niger embassy;
4. Extracts of police records concerning the burglary at the Niger embassy on January 2, 2001, and the second burglary at the private home of a Niger attaché on January 31, 2001;
5. Key extracts of Rocco Martino's personally registered conversations with Antonio Nucera, "La Signora" and Elisabetta Burba, the Panorama reporter who passed the forgeries off to the US Embassy in Rome.
1. Interrogation session with Rocco Martino on 17 September 2004. According to the authors of the article, Gian Marco Chiocci and Mario Secchi, this interrogation followed the revelation of Martino's identity in the British press. The authors also declare that Rocco Martino had been interviewed by the CBS which did not broadcast their program allegedly because Martino omitted to mention his collaboration with the French services.
"(...) I left the United States on 8 August, taking off from New York, and have been in Liguria since then, until I came to Rome yesterday. I was in Rome on 3 August, then I went to Munich, driving there in an automobile hired by CBS. I have always used my real name on my travels (...). After my discharge from the Carabinieri in 1983, my work consisted in gathering intelligence on input from the Egyptian secret services' resident in Rome, and I kept the SISMI agent by the name of Antonio Nucera informed of said activity, meeting him periodically until 1999 (...). I received very modest remuneration for my work with the Egyptian secret services. I wish to make it clear that, in addition to working for the Egyptian secret services, I also did jobs both in Italy and abroad as an outsider on Nucera's behalf. Another contact I had with the SISMI was (...), whom I met on several occasions up to 1997 or 1998. As of 1996, I embarked on a fairly regular collaboration with a French secret service; I had a reporting cell whose name I still have and am in a position to supply.
"The French were particularly interested in the Islamic fundamentalism phenomenon, and I supplied them with both written and oral intelligence.
I said not a word to the Egyptians or the SISMI about that work The French paid me a fairly stable sum, in the region of 1,500 to 2,000 euros a month plus expenses."
"If I remember rightly, Nucera asked me in 2000 if I was interested in meeting someone who worked for an African embassy and was in a position to supply intelligence and classified papers, including the embassy's cipher book. I agreed, and I met the lady in question (...). I would point out that the woman knew Nucera's identity, but called him "Francesco." The woman gave me intelligence of various sorts, which I passed on to the French without informing Nucera (...). It was the woman, once again, who gave me the paperwork on the alleged uranium trafficking between Niger and Iraq. I took said documentation to by French secret services contact in Brussels. When it was ascertained that the documentation was phony, I demanded explanations of Mrs. (...), who, to tell the truth, was very evasive on that head. I know CBS journalist Matranga had two talks with the lady. In the first, Mrs. (...) reportedly said that I was to blame, whereas in the second, I understand she said that the phony documentation had been passed to her by Colonel Nucera (...). I know the content of the article signed by Nicholas Rufford and published on 1 August 2004 under the headline: "Italian Spies Altered the Saddam Papers." The content of that article in no way reflects the content of talks I held, with a view to an interview, with Nicholas Rufford in Brussels on 29 July 2004. I never told Rufford that I had been used by the SISMI to put the phony uranium trafficking records about. What I actually told Rufford was that someone who worked or had worked for the SISMI had passed the documentation in question on to me, via another person. I repeat that the documentation was given to me by Mrs. (...), and that I do not know who put the documentation in question together."
Interrogation session with Rocco Martino on 7 February 2004.
Rocco Martino was asked to specify the terms of his meetings with SISMI Colonel Nucera and the embassy secretary, in connection with which the exchange of phony uranium trafficking records had allegedly taken place.)
"At about 1000 or 1100 hours on 16 February, I met Mr. Nucera in Largo Gancia, where he had arranged a meeting with Mrs. (...), who subsequently joined us. Nucera made the introductions, and we then went off for a coffee at a neighboring bar, and the conversation with Mrs.(...) continued outside the bar as well. I recorded the conversation, first between Nucera and myself and then between the woman and myself, and it is among the material I have handed over (...). Prior to the encounter, Colonel Nucera had offered to introduce me to someone who worked at an African embassy, thinking it was in my interest to meet her, given my intelligence work, as she could provide me with reports of interest to me (...). My meetings with Mrs. (...) began in 2000 and ended after little over a year; anyway, you can find the exact date when they broke off in the audio material I have handed over. I complained on that occasion that the papers she herself had given me were phony, the file on the alleged uranium trafficking between Niger and Iraq in particular (...). I received payments in the region of 1 million (lira) a month for my dealings with the lady. The documentation I have handed over contains traces of those payments. The material on the alleged uranium trafficking between the Nigerien Embassy and Iraq was given to me exclusively by the lady."
2. Interrogation session with Colonel Antonio Nucera on February 7, 2005.
"Let me clarify that for institutional reasons Mrs. (...) (an employee at the Niger Embassy, Editor’s note) was for my Branch a source and institutional contact until the summer of 1997. I must add that the said relation was never productive and also for this reason relations became scarcer. Let me specify that on November 15, 1997, I was transferred to another position and I no longer had institutional relations with Mrs. (...) Let me clarify that it was me who arranged the meeting and the introduction of Rocco Martino and Mrs. (...). I don’t remember the exact period of the encounter, probably, I think, in 1999, and I don’t remember if I arranged the encounter at the behest of the woman or Rocco Martino, each for his own personal reasons interested in undertaking a collaboration between themselves. I want to specify that the relations between the two were of no interest to my Service branch (...). I recall that it was me who arranged and consented the introduction between the two in a bar in Rome not far from the Niger Embassy. I was never interested in knowing if a relation between Mrs. (...) and Rocco had developed, nor was I interested in their affairs.
“I want to emphasis that I had no interest whatsoever, professional or personal, in the relation that developed between the two and whom I found in the center of a journalistic investigation called “Nigergate” (...).I never received information on the nature of their collaboration, the type of relation the two established. I only recall that Mrs. (...) on one occasion, and I think Martino also, confirmed that they had begun to collaborate without however providing me with indications concerning the sector of interests or events. Mrs. (...) told me that she was being paid and that on one occasion she received a check that bounced.”
First interrogation session on August 11, 2004. Nucera discusses his relation with Rocco Martino and qualifies him as not being a highly reliable source. He then reveals that Rocco worked under Colonel Mario Ferraro who died in mysterious circumstances in July 1995. Ferraro was found dead on the bathroom floor in his home, strangled by his bathrobe sash tied to the radiator (some say door handle or towel rack.) Apparently no autopsy was ordered and the case was closed as a suicide .Ferraro was allegedly a member of the top secret NATO organization, Gladio, and was said to be involved in an obscure episode related to the Moro abduction. Shortly before his death he expressed his fear of being assassinated to several friends and colleagues, and let on that he had compromising documents, according to testimonies.
Nucera then discusses the CBS episode.
3. Interrogation session
“I am a first director, retired. I worked approximately 16 years for the SISMI and for my position I am still bound by secrecy. (...) I worked for the said security organization until April 30, 2002. I know Rocco Martino because he was a source within my operational environment. I met him while working as an operative, through the structure chief at the time, more or less around 1992- 1993, if I remember well. The relation consisted of supplying me with information of interest for the Services, in this case whatever concerned Islamic fundamentalism.
“Sometimes he furnished general information on arms traffic that turned out to be unfounded whereas as far as the problem of Islamic fundamentalism is concerned he supplied concrete news based on objective data. (...) I seem to recall that Martino, before my contact, was managed by a high official in the Services, that is Colonel Mario Ferraro (...) The relation with Martino ended around the summer of 1997 since on the following November 15th I was transferred from the Operative Structure to another Service Division where I no longer undertook operative activity until my retirement.”
Last May  I telephoned Mrs. (...) because on the seventh of May a person who presented herself as the reporter Anna Matranga rang my daughter’s house interphone saying that she wanted to interview me concerning an alleged uranium traffic between Niger and Iraq (...) After half an hour I called her, and Matranga asked if I was willing to release an interview about the alleged uranium traffic between Iraq and Niger, useful for the American TV network CBS, who were present for the circumstance. I answered that I knew absolutely nothing about the argument. (...) Considering the insistence Matranga expressed in wanting an interview I replied that I would eventually contact her when I got back, which I did not do. After about ten days Matranga called me again, and once again I told her I knew nothing about the event and therefore saw no use in having an interview. At this point Matranga in an agitated tone told me that she wanted to get me involved anyway even if she knew that I knew nothing. I warned her against doing so, and in case she went ahead, I would have gone to judiciary authorities. It is for that reason that I telephoned Mrs. (...) in order to find out further details about the case. ...”
with "La Signora" on February 7, 2005:
"I began to have my suspicions about Rocco Martino after the theft in the Embassy in 2001. In particular I was always suspicious of him because of his insistence on having a copy of a contract between Niger and Iraq concerning a supply of uranium to the latter. That contract never existed, but only simple relations and agreements between the two countries with the scope of an eventual trade agreement. Martino always told me that if ever he got hold of an eventual contract between the two parties he would have gained a considerable sum from a certain "intelligence" company in Brussels to which he belonged. I limited myself to supplying Martino with copies of Embassy documents in which there were traces of Niger agreements, in particular with Iraq. I recall that I passed him a rough draft of an agreement with China and maybe with Korea pertinent to a possible uranium supply. I want to add that I furnished a copy of the secret code book of the Niger Embassy to Antonio Nucera at the time of my collaboration with the SISMI, I believe around 1995-96 (...). I worked with Nucera until 1997-98, then followed by a colleague of his, always of the SISMI, whose name was (...), with whom I collaborated until 1998-99. This colleague of his did not know of my relation with Martino."
La Signora recalls her first encounter with Rocco Martino.
"Nucera introduced Martino to me- I don't recall when- I think it was February 1999, a period in which my SISMI contact was (...). I remember it was February because it coincided with my birthday. Martino gave me a small gift, a box of chocolates. Nucera came one day to the Embassy and told me that for a period of time my relations with SISMI would be interrupted due to internal restructuring, and, therefore, I could work with a friend and acquaintance, Rocco Martino, who- he told me- worked for an intelligence agency in Brussels. I remember that Nucera introduced us in a bar near the Embassy. I never again had occasion to frequent Nucera. As far as my relations with Martino go, I broke them off in 2003 as advised by my SISMI contact, (...)."
The Niger embassy was burglarized over the New Year’s holidays in 2001. The burglary was first reported by Bonini and D’Avanzo in their Repubblica article
of July 16th, 2003 (translation by Nur al-Cubicle
). In that article they quoted a woman who worked at the embassy: “It all began here, it all started with that break-in.”
This story, like a mundane spy thriller, begins with a burglary--the fifth-floor apartment in No. 10 Via Antonio Baiamonti in Rome’s Mazzini Quarter. The thick steel-plated door defends the offices of the Embassy of Niger. A gloomy corridor runs from the offices of the political attaché from that of the ambassador. On a night sometime between 29 December 2000 and 1 January 2001, the usual “persons unknown” are frantically searching for something, turning the embassy inside-out. Papers are strewn everywhere and file cabinets have been opened. When early on January 2, the Second Secretary for Administrative Affairs, Arfou Mounkaila, reports the theft to the Carabinieri in the Trionfale precinct, he admits that the burglars behaved bizarrely. A lot of ado and trouble for nothing. With the exception of a steel Breil watch and three small vials of perfume, the “thieves” took nothing. Or so it seemed. Today, if you stop by the embassy and ask a few questions about the curious theft, a courteous woman with a big smile will tell you this: It all began here, it all started with that break-in.
This is the police report published by il Giornale on February 19,2006, page 14.
I declare that I am an employee at the Niger embassy. Today, at 8:45 AM, I received a call at my home from the embassy secretary, Mrs. (...) who told me that today as she approached the Niger embassy offices, situated in via Baiamonti, number 10, the building usher, who cleans the offices every Monday morning, called her and said that the offices were ransacked. As soon as I heard this I went there and together with the usher and the secretary we entered. The offices were in a state of disorder, precisely the Ambassador’s office, the Counsellor’s office and mine. From a first inventory it was found that a Breil watch was missing from my office as well as three bottles of perfume, but nothing else. At the moment I am not able to declare if something is missing in the Ambassador’s office or that of the Counsellor since neither of them is in Rome. The entry door shows signs of being forced. We are not insured for this sort of event. I know of no one that I might suspect of having done the actions I have described.”
In a follow-up article on July 19th,
Bonini and D’Avanzo revealed that a second break-in had occurred on January 31st, 2001, this time in the apartment of Adam Maiga Zakariaou, the embassy Counsellor.
...a second burglarly followed the first in via Baiamonti. On January 31st, Adam Maiga Zakariaou, an embassy functionary, returned to his apartment to find it ransacked after a break-in. ... He declared today to Repubblica, “I don’t know if the theft in my apartment has anything to do with the infraction at the embassy and therefore the mysteries behind the construction of this false uranium dossier. I would like to know. But frankly, I don’t think so. I think it was only a coincidence. At that time there had been several thefts in apartments in my neighborhood...”
This is the police report as published by il Giornale.
“Around 5 PM, I left my house situated in Rome, in via (...), with my family. I closed all windows and locked them, as well as the front door. I declare that I had not informed anyone that I would be going out at that time. Around 7:10 PM on January 31, 2001, I returned home and found that during our absence unknown individuals had torn open and removed the metallic grating that protected the window in my bedroom. In order to do so they had also pulled out the plastic shutters as well as the window which were protected by the aforementioned metal grating. Once inside they ransacked all the rooms of my apartment. In particular they went through the drawers in my bedroom, in that of the children and those in the closet next to the front door. The doors of the bookshelf in the living room had also been opened by the thieves. On a first assessment, I found missing two old watches of scarce commercial value and a gold ring also of little value. I add that only the bedroom window showed signs of infraction. I have no suspicions on anyone.”
Rocco Martino made a point of secretly taping all of his conversations. In the last article
in the Giornale series, the authors summarize what was said in key encounters. One comes away with the impression that Rocco may have been talking to his gizmo rather than to the person next to him.
This is a complete translation of the article.
(We're at the beginning of Nigergate. On February 16, 2000, Rocco Martino is in a bar with the SISMI agent, Antonio Nucera, talking about the "source", that is the Secretary at the Niger Embassy, that the latter will pass on to the former. They make a deal while waiting for "la Signora" from the Embassy.)
"La Signora " arrives and the three chat a while; then Rocco takes the initiative and exchanges telephone numbers with her. When the woman leaves, Martino and Nucera discuss the meeting. When Rocco asks how much she was paid, Nucero answers, a million and a half old lire [circa 750, my note] The conversation then passes to the discussion of several documents that the woman probably gave Nucera. They mention "ciphered" codes and the possibility to decrypt them, other than further documents "la Signora" may have furnished in the past. Rocco thanks Nucera and [Nucera] lets on that he needs a recommendation for his son who must convert his American pilot license.
(Rocco Martino doesn't waste time. On the same day he calls his new "source" and meets her after waiting for her to finish work at the embassy.)
The two talk for a while, then Martino begins to ask her how long she has worked at the Embassy, the names of her superiors, if there are other Italians in the office. Rocco Martino explains that he is about to leave and that he would therefore need for the following day any document that could demonstrate to his superiors the beginning of a collaboration. The woman lets on that she'll bring him some document; Martino accompanies her referring that the French would appreciate it as they have interests in that country.
(The source in the Niger Embassy has already consigned top secret material several times to Rocco Martino. However, on May 23, 2003, he complains directly to the woman about the authenticity of the material. Two months before the IAEA- the International Atomic Energy Agency- had certified that the documents were false.)
After conventional compliments, Rocco explains to the woman that there is a problem: some of the documents that she provided, he says, are false. "I'm sure you're in good faith but it's clear there's a problem to sort out." Martino advances two hypotheses: either someone made them within the Embassy, or they were introduced externally in a way to have her get them. The woman replies with indignation, she denies she knew the documents were false, especially a specific one concerning uranium. Martino calms her down and lets her know that the work she did was very much appreciated by his superiors.
(There has been a lot of discussions on how Rocco Martino tried to pilot the false dossier through the unwitting journalist, Elisabetta Burba, of "Panorama." There are even those who insinuate a leading role of the Italian government due to the fact the weekly had the dossier verified by the US Embassy. This is how it really went.)
Martino is in a bar, talking to the reporter Burba about her marriage and about children. Martino affirms that one of his sons is preparing for the entry examination to become a magistrate, so Burba lets him know that her husband's brother, Edmundo Bruti Liberati, is the president of the national association of magistrates. At a certain point Rocco bursts out: "Do we want this war to blow? If you publish this stuff, dear Elisabetta Burba (he syllabise her name and surname, Editor's note), the Embassy of this African country in Rome blows up." Elisabetta answers, "Tell me, who?" Martino answers: "Niger. The Embassy of that country in Rome blows up. The Embassy of Iraq to the Holy See who acts as an intermediary blows up. The SISMI, and that means the CIA station in Rome... let's say they don't blow up because they can't blow up, but they're going to have a really great problems for two reasons: either they didn't know what was going on or they knew it and kept it hidden from their base. Worse still, the inspectors (of the IAEA, Editor's note) are going to have to tell Saddam: we know that you bought this stuff (uranium, Editor's note, tell us where it is. Tonight Bush is going to make his speech, things have developed now, so let's say it's something mega-galactic." Burba appears perplexed, Rocco interrupts her: "I've got a case load of these documents, I brought something else to show you." During the conversation Martino shows several documents to Burba, among them the famous Protocol of Agreement between Iraq and Niger. He asks her when she could publish, but Burba takes her time because as she reads the documents she finds errors. Rocco pushes her on: "What could happen in Italy after this article is published?" He fears the law might move even if in his opinion "Italy isn't involved." The reporter interrogates Rocco on the authenticity of the documents, and Martino: "What can I tell you, that I stole the whole batch? That would be enough. That's why I'm worried about the legal aspects." Burba expresses further doubts, asks Rocco if he had ever known Michael Ledeen or Wolf at the CIA. She says there are other people who would like to meet him. In the end Martino agrees with Burba that there is someone who wants to frame him and in mentioning the name of Nucera of the SISMI he relates several details about the spy. On another tape, Burba is together with a reporter from CBS who asks a lot of questions. Martino refers the facts he already told Burba, emphasising the obscure role of Nucera and letting on that many of the documents that he received from "la Signora" were passed on to a diplomat from a "tranquil" country. "One of my friends."