Berlusconi’s Cabinet OKs corruption crackdown in Italy after scandals hit aide, politicians

By Frances Demilio, AP
Monday, March 1, 2010

Italian Cabinet approves corruption crackdown

ROME — The Cabinet of Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi proposed legislation Monday to keep politicians out of Parliament if convicted of embezzlement, bribery or other forms of corruption after scandals hit a top aide and politicians in his party.

Berlusconi, who himself is on trial in a bribery case and who denies wrongdoing, recently promised the crackdown.

One of his closest associates, the chief of the nation’s disaster relief agency, has come under investigation in a probe of public contracts for construction before last year’s Group of Eight summit in Italy. The aide, Guido Bertolaso, who also oversaw disaster aid after last year’s earthquake in L’Aquila, denies he did anything wrong as part of running G-8 preparations.

Justice Minister Angelino Alfano told reporters that one of the measures in the corruption crackdown would forbid politicians from running for office, including governorships and Parliament, for five years after corruption convictions.

The minister said those who “put taxpayers’ money into their own pockets” were the chief target of the proposed legislation. He said that “those who steal … must pay the price.”

Meanwhile, a senator from Berlusconi’s conservative party, suspected by prosecutors of having a role in money laundering for organized crime, resigned Monday.

Nicola Di Girolamo, a member of the premier’s conservative Freedom People’s party, represents Italians living abroad. Rome-based organized crime prosecutors alleged that Di Girolamo was elected with falsified ballots of Italian voters living in and around the German city of Stuttgart. The alleged fraud was purportedly arranged by the ‘ndrangheta, a southern Italian crime syndicate with a solid base in Germany.

Separately, Berlusconi has rebuffed the resignation of his party’s coordinator for the Naples area who is accused by turncoats of being cozy with mobsters.

Berlusconi has blamed the scandals on “scoundrels” and said their scope cannot be compared to the “Clean Hands” corruption probes of the early 1990s that wiped out an entire political class.

The crackdown comes as his party hopes to make a strong showing in regional elections later this month.

Opposition leaders scoffed at the proposed law, criticizing Berlusconi’s efforts to rein in prosecutors’ ability to use wiretaps in investigations.

“The fight against corruption and shady business dealings will be effective only if wiretaps will still be able to be employed,” said Massimo Donadi, from the centrist opposition Italy of Values party, which is led by a former Clean Hands prosecutor-turned-politician.

will not be displayed