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Mani pulite (Italian for ''clean hands'') was a nationwide Italian judicial investigation into political corruption held in the 1990s. ''Mani pulite'' led to the demise of the so-called ''First Republic'', resulting in the disappearance of many parties. Some politicians and industry leaders committed suicide after their crimes were exposed. The corruption system that was uncovered by these investigations was usually referred to as Tangentopoli, or "bribeville".
Mario Chiesa, the "villain"
Tangentopoli began on February 17, 1992, when judge Antonio Di Pietro had Mario Chiesa, a member of the Italian Socialist Party, arrested. It was the start of his Mani pulite (''clean hands'') investigation. News of political corruption began spreading in the press.
Bettino Craxi, denying speculation about nationwide corruption, called Mario Chiesa ''mariuolo'', or "villain", a "wild splinter" of the otherwise clean Italian Socialist Party.
Extension of anti-corruption investigations
In the 1992 elections, the Christian Democracy (DC) party lost many votes, but its coalition prior to the elections managed to keep a small majority, while opposition parties gained votes. There was however no opposition leadership, and many votes went to Lega Nord, a party that was not inclined to alliances at the time. The resulting parliament was therefore weak and difficult to bring to an agreement, and new elections arrived as soon as 1994.
During April 1992, many industrial figures and politicians, especially from the majority parties but also from the opposition, were arrested on charges of corruption. While the investigations started in Milan, they quickly spread from town to town, as more and more politicians confessed. A grotesque situation occurred when a Socialist politician immediately confessed all his crimes to two Carabinieri who had come to his house, only to later discover they had come to deliver a mere traffic violation fine.
Fundamental to this exponential expansion was the general attitude of the main politicians to drop support for minor politicians who got caught; this made many of them feel betrayed, and they often mentioned many other politicians, who in turn would mention even more.
On May 23, 1992, judge Giovanni Falcone, one of the main architects of the Maxi Trial against the Mafia in the mid 1980s, was murdered with his wife and three bodyguards by a bomb located underneath the road at Capaci on the route from Palermo airport to the city. A few months later, his colleague Paolo Borsellino was assassinated with a car bomb in ''via d'Amelio''. Mafia boss Salvatore Riina was arrested in 1993 and along with Giovanni Brusca (the man who pushed the button of the remote control that set the Capaci bomb off – arrested in 1996) and others, received life sentences for both murders.
On September 2, 1992, the socialist politician Sergio Moroni, charged with corruption, committed suicide. He left a letter pleading guilty, declaring that crimes were not for his personal gain but for the party's benefit, and accused the financing system of all parties. His daughter, Chiara Moroni, is today a member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies in Silvio Berlusconi's party Forza Italia.
Effect on national politics
In the local December elections, DC lost half of their votes. The day after that, Bettino Craxi, leader of the Italian Socialist Party, was officially accused of corruption. After many other politicians were accused and jailed, Craxi eventually resigned.
On March 5, 1993, the Italian government of Giuliano Amato and his justice minister Luigi Conso tried to find a solution with a decree, which allowed criminal charges for several bribery-related crimes to be replaced by administrative charges instead; according to Italian popular opinion at the time, that would have resulted in a ''de facto'' amnesty for most corruption charges. Among public outrage and nationwide rallies, the Italian president of the Republic Oscar Luigi Scalfaro refused to sign the decree, deeming it unconstitutional. The following week, a US$250 million affair involving Eni, the government-controlled national energy society, was revealed. The stream of accusation, jailing and confessions continued.
On March 25, 1993, the Italian parliament changed the municipal electoral law in favor of a majoritarian system. Later, on April 18, the public overwhelmingly backed the abrogation of the existing proportional representation parliamentary electoral law in a referendum (a mixed system was introduced that August), causing Amato to resign three days later. Still shocked by the recent events, the Parliament was unable to produce a new government. Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, former governor of the national bank, was appointed head of the government and appointed a technical government without political influences. In the meantime, the investigation of Craxi was blocked by the parliament. Several members of the government, having been in office just three days, resigned in protest; among them were Francesco Rutelli, Minister of the Environment and Vincenzo Visco, Minister of Finance. In new local elections on June 6, 1993, DC lost half of its votes once again; the Socialist Party virtually disappeared. Instead Lega Nord, a protest movement with some ideological elements ranging from xenophobia and racism to independence from the rest of Italy and a general loath of the political system, became the strongest political force in Northern Italy. The left-wing opposition was approaching majority, but still lacked unity and leadership.
Eventually, all four parties in government in 1992 disappeared, at different times in different ways: the Christian Democracy, the Italian Socialist Party, the Italian Socialist Democratic Party, and the Italian Liberal Party. The Democratic Party of the Left, the Italian Republican Party and the Movimento Sociale Italiano were the only surviving national parties; the Republican party is the only one that has maintained its name since.
The Cusani trial
On July 20, 1993, the former Eni president, Gabriele Cagliari, committed suicide in jail. His wife later gave back $3 million of illegal funds.
Meanwhile, the trial of Sergio Cusani began. Mr. Cusani was accused of crimes connected to a joint venture between Eni and Montedison, named Enimont. It was broadcast on national television, and was a sort of showcase of the old politics being brought to their responsibilities. While Cusani himself was not a major figure, the connection of his crimes to the Enimont affair called in all the nation's major politicians as witnesses.
A high note was reached in the Cusani trial when former head of government Arnaldo Forlani, answering a question, simply said "I don't remember"; he also happened to be very nervous and did not notice that sweat was accumulating on his lips, and that image was by many considered symbolic of the people's disgust for the corruption system. Bettino Craxi, instead, admitted that his party received $93 million of illegal funds. His defense was that "everyone was doing this" anyway.
Even the Lega Nord was brought in the trial; secretary Umberto Bossi and former treasurer Alessandro Patelli were convicted for receiving 200 million lire of illegal funding (approx. $100,000 at the time).
A bribe to the Italian Communist Party was alleged, but it was not established who had committed the offence. As prosecutor Antonio Di Pietro stated, "Penal responsibility is personal. I cannot bring here a person with first name Communist and last name Party".
The Enimont trial itself was carried out after the Cusani trial, with much less public interest.
Investigations on other fronts
In the meantime, the investigation expanded outside the political range: on September 2, 1993, the Milan judge Diego Curtò was arrested. On April 21, 1994, 80 financial policemen and 300 industry personalities were charged with corruption. A few days later, the secretary of the large Fiat corporation admitted corruption with a letter to a newspaper.
In 1994, Silvio Berlusconi entered politics by storm and won the elections. Many think that this move was to preserve his many industries from possible corruption charges. This suspicion was reinforced on February 11, when Silvio Berlusconi's brother, Paolo, admitted to corruption crimes. On July 13, 1994, the Berlusconi government made a new law to avoid jail time for most corruption crimes.
The law was carefully timed as Italy had defeated Bulgaria in the 1994 Football World Cup's semifinals, and it is likely that the government expected to exploit an eventual victory to pass the law under silence in a football-crazy country. However, as Roberto Baggio shot high the last penalty against Brazil, and the news was showing images of hated, corrupt politicians getting out of jail, the public opinion became enraged; the images of Francesco De Lorenzo, former minister of Health, were especially striking, since the general public perceived stealing money from hospitals an especially hateful act.
Just a few days before, the arrested policemen had been talking about corruption in the Fininvest media industry, the biggest Berlusconi family property. Most of the Mani pulite investigation pool declared that they would respect the state's laws, but they could not work in a situation where duty and conscience were to conflict: they requested therefore to be reassigned to other duties.
Since the government could not afford to be seen as an adversary of the popular judge pool, the decree was hastily revoked and marked a "misunderstanding"; minister for internal affairs Roberto Maroni from Lega Nord maintained that he had not even had the occasion of reading it. While the minister of Justice was Alfredo Biondi, allegations that Cesare Previti, a lawyer from Berlusconi's company Fininvest, had written it, are at least credible.
On July 28, Berlusconi's brother was again arrested and immediately released.
Escalating conflict between Silvio Berlusconi and Antonio Di Pietro
What began then is what has been described by many as the "Berlusconi-Di Pietro battle". While Berlusconi's industries were being investigated, "inspectors" were sent from the government to the Milanese judges' office to look for formal irregularities. No irregularity were ever found, but this tactic, coupled with Berlusconi's firm grip on the information system, helped spread what is described in other environments as FUD. The battle ended without winners: on December 6, Di Pietro resigned. Two weeks later, the Berlusconi government resigned before a critical confidence vote in the Parliament, which was clearly going to be in Berlusconi's disfavour.
During 1995, many investigations were started against Antonio Di Pietro, who was years later cleared of all charges, while Silvio Berlusconi incurred other charges of corruption. It was later found that the main prosecutor of Antonio Di Pietro in these times, Fabio Salamone from Brescia, was the brother of a man that Antonio Di Pietro himself had prosecuted, and who was sentenced to 18 months of jail for various corruption charges. It took however some time before the authorities realized this and ordered Salamone to other duties even thought his investigations had taken a completely different direction: Paolo Berlusconi (Silvio's brother) and Cesare Previti (former minister) were accused of a conspiracy against Di Pietro but the prosecutor who later replaced Salamone asked for their acquittance and so did the court.
After being cleared, Antonio Di Pietro started a political career, a thing he had previously excluded on the grounds that he did not want to exploit the popularity gained doing what he perceived to be just his duty. His movement is named Italia dei Valori ("Italy of values").
In 1998, Cesare Previti, former manager of Fininvest and then sitting in parliament after the Berlusconi government, avoided jailing thanks to parliament intervention, even though Berlusconi and his allies were in the opposition. Bettino Craxi accumulated several years of jailing in definitive convictions and had to escape to Tunisia, where he remained until his death on January 19, 2000.
Statutory term strategy
After 1994, the danger of trials being cancelled due to the expiration of statutory terms was becoming very real. This was clear to the judges and to the politicians, and the latter ones (with no distinction between Berlusconi's coalition and the Olive Tree, especially under the leadership of Massimo D'Alema) either ignored the pleas of the judiciary system for more funding to buy equipment, or passed laws that made the painstakingly slow Italian trials even slower and subject to earlier prescription.
Furthermore, the intricate nature of Italian laws allowed cunning lawyers to use many delaying tactics: an instructive example was a prosecution of Silvio Berlusconi, where he was accused of misappropriation of funds of his own company, Fininvest, in order to prepare black funds that could have been used for bribes or other illegitimate purposes; on the last possible day, a lawyer from Fininvest appeared in court and complained that his company had not been formally notified of the trial. While this trial was well publicized in the media (and also in Fininvest's media themselves), the formality forced the trial to be restarted from scratch, and Berlusconi was finally acquitted by expiration of statutory terms. Being acquitted in this first trial, he could later benefit from a general reduction of terms for other trials, which in turn expired earlier with a domino effect.
After Silvio Berlusconi's victory in 2001, the gradual campaign against judges reached the point where it is not only openly acceptable to criticize judges for having carried out Mani pulite, but it has become increasingly difficult to broadcast opinions favorable to Milan's pool. This is an impressive 180° cultural turn from 1992, when no politician was believed and no judge was contested, in which the Berlusconi's power in media has undoubtedly played an important role. Even Umberto Bossi, whose Lega Nord once made a statement bringing and showing a hanging rope in a parliamentary session, has become highly critical of judges, even though there are still occasional frictions between Lega Nord and former Christian Democrat or Socialist allies in Berlusconi's coalition.