Dirty Hands

Article excerpt

Abstract:

Corruption at all levels of the executive and legislative branches is a permanent fixture of Italian politics, as is voter indifference to charges against their representatives. This indifference is not without reason. Cases of corrupt judges and questionable witnesses have regularly made headlines in the Italian press in recent years. The people's loss of confidence in the judiciary has brought the anti-corruption campaign launched by the Italian government in 1992 to a halt. Yet progress in the fight against corruption and an increase in public concern for this issue are indispensible to Italy's efforts to improve it economic situation.

Text:

Italian Corruption and Voter Apathy

In September 1999, Giulio Andreotti, seven-time Prime Minister of Italy, was cheered by thousands of supporters at a rally of the Christian Democratic Party (CDP).

Earlier that month, Andreotti had faced a jury on charges of mafia collusion and third-degree murder of an Italian journalist. Together, these two events give a representative image of the political scene in Italy. Corruption at all levels of the executive and legislative branches is a permanent fixture of Italian politics, as is voter indifference to charges against their representatives. This indifference is not without reason. Cases of corrupt judges and questionable witnesses have regularly made headlines in the Italian press in recent years. The people's loss of confidence in the judiciary has brought the anti-corruption campaign launched by the Italian government in 1992 to a halt. Yet progress in the fight against corruption and an increase in public concern for this issue are indispensable to Italy's efforts to improve its economic situation.

Corruption has increasingly come to infect all levels of Italian politics. Between 1992 and 1993 alone, more than 150 Members of Parliament were investigated on charges of corruption. These charges varied widely, from mafia collusion and bribery to tax evasion and abuse of political power to further private financial interests. The illicit activity pervades the entire political spectrum, tainting Socialists and members of the Democratic Party of the Left, as well as the CDP and the comparatively young center-to-right coalition Forza Italia. In 1993, former Socialist Prime Minister Bettino Craxi was found guilty of illicit, party financing. That same year, former CDP Prime Minister Ciriaco de Mita was linked to embezzlement of funds destined for earthquake relief in southern Italy. A year later, another former Premier, Christian Democrat Giovanni Goria, faced charges of bribery. In 1995 the Andreotti trial began to determine whether the ex-CDP leader was guilty of collaborating with the Sicilian mafia, the Cosa Nostra. More recently, in 1997, Forzo Italia leader and Premier Silvio Berlusconi received a 21-month jail term for tax evasion and fraud.

In a political environment wrought with scandal, the rise of anti-corruption movements is a natural and desirable reaction. In Italy the most significant of such movements has been the 1992 campaign called "Clean Hands." Centered in Milan and coordinated by the high-profile magistrate Antonio Di Pietro, the operation has arrested and tried approximately 3,000 people. As a result of Italy's permissive criminal statues, however, only one-sixth of those tried for corruption have been convicted, and fewer than 100 have served jail terms. Underlying this phenomenon is the permissiveness of Italian criminal statutes. Under Italian law, a first offense that is punishable with a jail term of two years or less can be suspended. Terms of more than two years may be annulled if the criminal asks to be taken into custody by social services, which simply involves the criminal's promise not to leave the country and to receive psychiatric treatment.

The Ministry of justice and its policies are famous for their laxity and corruption, judges, for example, are permitted to work as advisers in private arbitration cases, with the possibility of earning money from the people they are asked to try. …