Sun, May 01, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Police ignore Trevi fountain trawlers

The Guardian, Rome

Roberto Cercelletta, center, the man nicknamed D’Artagnan who became famous in 2002 for sweeping up coins thrown into the Trevi Fountain by tourists before the authorities stopped him, protests at the loss of his livelihood after cutting his stomach on the monument in Rome, Italy, on Thursday.

Photo: EPA

The chief of Rome’s municipal police faced calls for his resignation on Friday amid a scandal over the illicit removal of coins thrown into the Trevi fountain by tourists.

Earlier this week, members of chief Angelo Giuliani’s force stood by as a TV reporter was pushed into the fountain by one of three men who had been filmed as they drained it of thousands of euros.

An estimated 2,000 euros to 3,000 euros is thrown into the fountain each day. In theory, the money goes to the Roman Catholic charity Caritas, but the reality was disclosed by a program this week on one of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s channels, Italia 1.

A hidden camera recorded a man using a broom to sweep the coins into piles for removal. He was helped by two accomplices who carried the money off in buckets.

The entire operation was calmly watched, first, by a police officer who was handed something by one of the collectors, and then by two others.

When the program’s reporter stepped in to ask the police why they were not taking any action, he was insulted and threatened by the man at work in the fountain and then pushed into the water.

It was only when the cameraman was assaulted that the police intervened. Even then, however, the officers did nothing to prevent the reporter being elbowed in the face by the other accomplice.

The Trevi fountain is famous, not just for its Baroque extravagance, but the superstition that anyone who throws in a coin is assured of returning to Rome. The legend inspired the romantic 1954 movie, Three Coins in the Fountain, and the song of the same name.

It had long been known that some of the cash was taken from the fountain before it could be gathered by the authorities. In 2002, the man filmed wielding the broom in the Italia 1 program — known as D’Artagnan — was arrested for doing so.

However, the program showed the removal taking place on an almost industrial scale and with the evident complicity of the municipal police.

Following D’Artagnan’s arrest nine years ago, much was made of the police having installed CCTV and sensors around the fountain to prevent coins being taken, but it was an open secret among Romans that the portly D’Artagnan and his fellow “musketeers” had returned to work.

Outraged at the threat to what he regards as an honest living, D’Artagnan — real name Roberto Cercelletta — staged a gory protest on Thursday by repeatedly slashing his stomach and then clambering onto the rocks surrounding the fountain to display his wounds.

In 2003, a judge ruled that coins thrown into the Trevi fountain had been discarded by theirs owners and could not therefore be stolen.

The policeman approached by Italia 1’s reporter told him there was no legal basis for arresting the coin gatherers, but, as Italia 1 pointed out, there is a by-law against entering the fountains of Rome that could have been used.

Rome’s mayor, Gianni Alemanno, said the attitude of the three police officers was “intolerable” and that they had been suspended from duty pending an inquiry, but his deputy dismissed calls for the resignation of Giuliani. Alemanno and said the administration was preparing a law that would make removal of coins from the fountain an offence.

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