Italian newspapers allege the group may have enjoyed friendly relations with secret service officers, as well as with police and politicians. A British suspect, Paul Anthony O'Connor, was frequently "accompanied by a former agent of Britain's MI6 (foreign intelligence agency)", according to Panorama.
And a telephone intercept published by the Rome daily La Repubblica on Sunday purported to indicate that Mokbel was attempting to organize a dinner "with the head of MI5", Britain's domestic intelligence service.
Mokbel and his associates obtained access to sophisticated espionage software when they acquired control of Ikon Srl, a software company based near Milan, the Rome daily Il Messaggero claimed last week. The company owned spyware developed by Fabio Ghioni, a hacker who worked for the IT security department of Telecom Italia, that had been used by police and secret services to track terrorists.
"That software was used in investigations into the new Red Brigades (Italian Marxist terrorists), Islamic cells and to combat child pornography," Ghioni told Il Messaggero. The idea that it had fallen into unscrupulous hands was "decidedly alarming", Ghioni said.
Confident that his phone calls couldn't be intercepted, Mokbel appears to have spoken freely over the phone. In one angry call to "his" senator, Nicola Di Girolamo, he allegedly exploded: "You can become president of Italy, but for me you will always be a doorman, meaning you are my slave." The newly elected senator is alleged to have replied meekly: "Please forgive me."
In another candid call, published Friday by the weekly L'Espresso, Mokbel sighed: "Three years in prison would be just a bit of rest for me." He may now have the opportunity to put that boast to the test.