March 28, 1977 12:00 PM

A Paris-bound woman, traveling under the name “De Grunzürg,” was about to place her travel case on the moving belt of the scanning machine at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport when an officer of the Italian Finance Police Corps stepped up.

“Nothing to declare?” asked Sergeant Luigi Imbimbe.

“No,” answered the woman.

“Then please come with me a minute. It’s just a formality.”

“But I’m Sophia Loren,” she acknowledged, taking off her bottle-green glasses.

“I know who you are, Signora,” replied Sergeant Imbimbe, “but I must insist you come with me.”

Thus began Loren’s grueling nine-hour ordeal with Italian authorities, who drove the 42-year-old actress to tears while grilling her about the complicated finances of her husband, movie producer Carlo Ponti, 63. After her three lawyers arrived, Loren puffed impatiently on cigarettes while the customs men searched her luggage and opened three sealed envelopes. They found nothing.

The bizarre incident occurred one month after a similarly fruitless search of the Rome offices of Ponti’s Champion Film Company and the Pontis’ magnificent villa at Marino in the Alban Hills outside Rome.

Why the brouhaha? Both Sophia and Ponti have become French citizens. Apparently Italian authorities suspect Ponti—who had stated publicly that he might be moving much of his business from Italy to Canada and Iran—of violating Italian law which prohibits taking any money from the country without the consent of the government.

Finally, allowed on a 5:10 a.m. flight to Paris, Loren and secretary Mercedes Prentice kicked off their shoes and stretched out for a catnap. Ponti met her at the Charles de Gaulle airport and whisked her off to the Pontis’ Paris apartment. Finito. “No one is home,” the maid tells callers, “and no one is expected.”

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