Police conduct checks on Pompeii restoration projects

Authorities working to prevent criminal involvement

Police conduct checks on Pompeii restoration projects

Naples, July 5 - Police, financial authorities, and criminal experts began making checks Friday on work at the world-famous Pompeii archaeological site to ensure contracts were being fulfilled. The checks, focused on the House of the Criptoportico and of the Dioscuri, followed a protocol designed in recent months by the culture minstry to weed out any mafia or criminal gang activities involved in contracts for restoration work. In March, the EU Commission approved an injection of 105 million euros in restoration funds for Pompeii's ailing monuments, to be combined with an equivalent investment from Italy. A parallel project of private investors and businesses to develop areas surrounding the archeological site is also being established. In April, plans were announced for the revamping and preservation of the ancient site of Pompeii - the Roman city that was buried under ash in 79 AD. But authorities have been anxious to keep gangs from infiltrating contracts to skim off the cash without performing any work. In a related matter, last week, UNESCO recently gave Italy a deadline of December 31 to apply a series of upgrade measures or face having Pompeii removed from the elite World Heritage catalogue. A clear plan implemented with maximum transparency is needed to keep the world-famous tourist destination of Pompeii on UNESCO's list, Italian Minister of Culture Massimo Bray said. To date, five work sites have opened in Pompeii, but two have been halted due to the contractors' ''lack of transparency,'' Bray said recently. Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum are some of Italy's most popular tourist destinations. Currently, an exhibit at London's famed British Museum, Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, has already recorded 287,000 visitors - well beyond the number expected for its six-month run. Tens of thousands more are expected to visit the exhibition, which is on course to become the third-most popular in the museum's history, which first opened its door in 1753.

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