Pat Cox, president of the European Parliament, has started legal action after a pair of diamond cuff-links mysteriously disappeared from his baggage during a private visit to Rome.

The cuff-links, which were a gift from the Parliament, were stolen from his baggage on arrival at Rome's main Fiumicino airport.

For unknown reasons, Mr Cox had been unable to retrieve his suitcases when the plane landed, and his possessions were only delivered to his hotel later in the day.

Italian investigators were scrutinizing the journey taken by his bags from the airport in a bid to find the identity of the thief.

The incident has further underlined the risk of baggage theft at Italian airports.

In mid-2002, Fiumicino was the subject of numerous baggage delays, while several employees at Milan's Malpensa airport were arrested at the end of August for systematically helping themselves to passengers' luggage.

Some 40 people have since been placed under formal investigation for theft and harbouring stolen goods.