Italian businessmen accused of bribing politicians in exchange for contracts for a massive flood-prevention project in Venice came up with a novel tactic for evading police attention: edible notes.
The businessmen allegedly listed the politicians to whom they were paying millions of dollars in bribes on edible paper. In the event of a raid by the police, their intention was simply to swallow the evidence.
The revelation, contained in a 712-page document compiled by prosecutors after a three-year investigation, added a farcical touch to a scandal that has reinforced the image of Italy as a country in which corruption is endemic among the political and business elite.
A member of the Consorzio Venezia Nuova, the consortium building a €5.6 billion ($8.99b) flood barrier for the lagoon city, told a consultant: "Write it on different paper, edible paper. You can swallow it if someone arrives one day. I'm not joking."
The conversation was recorded by police, who wiretapped dozens of politicians, public officials and businessmen during their investigation into the so-called "Moses" project, which involves building giant gates across the three inlets that connect the Venetian lagoon to the Adriatic, the first of which was completed last year.
The notes allegedly documented the politicians who received kickbacks from a €22.5 million slush fund in return for awarding lucrative construction contracts for the project, which is due to be completed in 2016.
The politicians are accused of using the money to finance their electoral campaigns and for personal gain.
On Wednesday, Giorgio Orsoni, the centre-left mayor of Venice, was one of 35 people arrested in connection with the scandal. He is accused of receiving 560,000 in illicit payments from the consortium.
Giancarlo Galan, an MP ally of Silvio Berlusconi and a former president of the Veneto region, is alleged to have received 1 million a year in bribes between 2005 and 2011. Both have denied the charges.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said corruption scandals did such grave damage to Italy's reputation that he considered the crime to be "high treason".