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VICENZA, Italy — A successful court fight waged for a decade by an Italian man claiming he was unfairly fired from NAS Sigonella means that commissary customers may buy only fruit, vegetables, beef and pork. Everything else, at least for now, belongs to Carmelo Cocuzza.

Cocuzza is a former Navy Exchange employee judged by various Italian courts to be owed restitution for lost wages and retirement. He recently got a court order to “foreclose” on the debt and seize commissary assets, the Corrier del Mezzo Giorno reported on Friday.

Commissary contents were estimated to be worth about $1 million were Cocuzza to auction them.

The onetime window-dresser won a wrongful termination case, upheld by Italy’s Supreme Court in March 2014, that entitles him to all wages from the time of dismissal to reinstatement, plus social security contributions, according to MeridioNews.

Two years later, still at an impasse with U.S. officials, he received the court order to seize commissary assets.

The case appears to pit the Italian legal system and judicial authority against treaties and agreements between Italy and the United States, which experts say preclude the seizing of Naval base assets by a local national.

“Everyone is a little uncertain how it’s going to play out,” said. Lt. Andriana Genualdi, a spokeswoman for the base in Sicily.

On Saturday evening, base officials said on Facebook that the commissary would be open on Sunday. “However, due to pending legal action in the Italian court system, only items not marked as off limits in the commissary will be available for purchase. Items available will be fruits, vegetables, beef and pork.”

That announcement followed a period of several hours when officials seemed uncertain over a course of action, saying initially that the store would be closed indefinitely because of “unforeseen circumstances,” then citing “ongoing legal matters” for the shutdown. Just before the reopening was announced on Saturday, officials wrote that “this issue is being addressed at all levels from the (U.S.) Embassy down.”

The response on Naval Air Station Sigonella’s homepage was varied. Some people expressed anger; others offered rides or lauded local Sicilian markets and opportunities for cultural enrichment. “Just another day in Sicily,” one person wrote.

A court hearing was scheduled for Tuesday, Genualdi said, but how the situation would be resolved was unclear. The commissary, like others in Italy, is closed on Mondays.

Jeff Galvin, press attache at the U.S. Embassy in Rome, declined to discuss the case. “Because this is an ongoing process we cannot discuss particulars,” he said. “We will continue to seek an appropriate and mutually agreeable solution.”

Cocuzza has cast himself in the Italian press as “David,” up against the American Goliath. He’s said he’s spent all his time and energies on seeking justice for himself and family after being fired for allegedly falsifying his time card, according to Italian media. The judgment included $600,000 in damages for Cocuzza and being rehired.

“The law must be equal for all, and even foreign governments have to comply with the Italian regulations in Italy,” Cocuzza was quoted as saying by the MeridioNews website.

The commissary is one of the largest in Europe, according to the Navy, stocking more than 10,150 items and equipped with a large bakery and deli.

montgomery.nancy@stripes.com

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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