Magazine article The Spectator

Berlusconi's Shadow: Crime, Justice and the Pursuit of Power

Magazine article The Spectator

Berlusconi's Shadow: Crime, Justice and the Pursuit of Power

Article excerpt

The return of Cosa Nostra BERLUSCONI'S SHADOW: CRIME, JUSTICE AND THE PURSUIT OF POWER by David Lane Allen Lane, £18.99, pp. 352, ISBN 0713997877 £16.99 (plus £2.25 p&p) 0870 800 4848

When Silvio Berlusconi came to power for the second time in May 2001, in a landslide victory, Italy became unique among Western democracies: no other nation had at its head its richest citizen - the 35th richest man in the world - someone who also enjoyed a monopoly of the country's private television broadcasting. More important, no other country had its prime minister on trial, accused of bribing judges, ruling over a coalition busy enacting special laws to protect himself and his friends. Drawing attention to these facts in the Economist not long afterwards, David Lane provoked fury in the Italian political and financial establishment, and talk among Italy's EU partners, where his articles were widely read. In Berlusconi's Shadow: Crime, Justice and the Pursuit of Power, Lane elaborates on his theme. His book - sober, precise, meticulously researched - is full of such extraordinary and disquieting facts and events that were it not for Lane's long knowledge of Italy they would be hard to believe.

Born in Milan in 1936, Berlusconi rose rapidly from property speculator to tycoon to television mogul, by a combination of crafty stratagems and political deals, elbowed through by secret pressures, until he had complete dominance of private television and a tight grip on television advertising. By the late 1980s, he had moved into print media, retailing, financial services, telecommunications and football, helped by his good friend Bettino Craxi, the Socialist party leader, later indicted for bribery. After he became Prime Minister in 1994, Berlusconi set about changing the laws on such things as false accounting, decriminalising some offences and reducing the statute of limitations on others, and keeping a large team of lawyers permanently employed trying to nullify trials.

In 1992, a small group of investigators, going by the nickname of mani pulite, clean hands, had begun looking into cases of corruption involving politicians and businessmen. (Cases of bribery among the judiciary were called toghe sporche, dirty robes.) What they uncovered was a vast web of money-laundering, false invoicing, bribery and camouflaging of bank transactions, in which industry, both public and private, the world of finance, the civil service, tax inspectors and politicians were all enmeshed. At much the same time, another set of brave magistrates, both in Sicily and on the mainland, were continuing their investigations into the Mafia and organised crime, carrying on the work in which men like Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino had already lost their lives. …

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