Berlusconi & cronies Inc

2010-07-17 19:57

For the people of L’Aquila, the worst was not the earthquake that struck on the night of April 6 last year, killing more than 300 people and destroying much of the city centre.

Rather what was most devastating was to learn that at 4am on that same night, two well-connected builders were already rubbing their hands with glee about the fat contracts to rebuild the city which they planned to get from their friends in the ­government.

Worse was the day that Guido Bertolaso, brought in by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to oversee relief and reconstruction, was fingered for taking bribes.

Alongside him were businessmen suspected of cashing in on contracts, not only in L’Aquila but in Tuscany, Sardinia and everywhere that “emergencies” have been designated.

And, as it happens, Berlusconi has declared “emergencies” left, right and centre.

When an emergency is declared, ­ordinary public bidding rules are suspended.

There were 49 such “emergencies” last year alone.

A full-blown government corruption scandal is buffeting Italy and the Berlusconi government.

It seems that, in addition to Bertolaso’s Roman residence, he has an apartment on the city’s expensive, elegant Via Giulia, for which the rent is paid by big builder Diego Anemone – a man whose vast construction empire has profited greatly from deals made under the emergency rules.

Anemone also hired Bertolaso’s wife as a consultant.

Claudio Scajola, the minister for economic development, had to resign for accepting €1.1 million (about R10.4 million), from Anemone to acquire and rehabilitate an apartment with a Colosseum view.

Angelo Balducci, a top aide in the prime minister’s office, is in jail ­after numerous phone tappings ­revealed gross irregularities that ­favoured selected companies.

Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, Archbishop of Naples, is under investigation on suspicion he sold a church-owned palazzo at one-third the market value to Pietro Lunardi, minister under the 2001-06 Berlusconi administration.

It took the special unit investigating these crimes more than a year to amass the evidence, much of it based on 400 000 tapped phone conversations among a relatively small number of people.

No surprise then that Berlusconi is currently battling to pass a tough new bill that would sharply limit phone-tapping orders.

Apart from the blow it would deliver to a free press, the bill would severely hamper anti-Mafia operations.

Even some members of Berlusconi’s own party, particularly those allied with Chamber speaker Gianfranco Fini, don’t like it.

Berlusconi’s haste to pass his gag rule belies an evident concern about the unfolding scandal, which has already stirred discontent among his voters.

It has now been almost 20 years since Tangentopoli, the huge “Bribesville” corruption scandal, blazed across Italy, reducing the two major ruling political parties, the Socialists and the Christian Democrats, to cinders.

It revealed a system of bribes and kickbacks ­under which nearly every major

Italian company was paying off politicians and tax authorities – for contracts and benevolent treatment.

Popular disgust destroyed all the major parties, except the former Communists, and stoked great cynicism about Italy’s political class.

However, that cynicism didn’t ­extend to the corruptors – the businessmen – and Berlusconi, who chose the moment to found a new political party and run for office, becoming prime minister in 1994, was the beneficiary.

Of course he, too, had been caught paying bribes to the politicians, but that was conveniently forgotten.

Berlusconi’s closest aide and Forza Italia founder Senator Marcello Dell’Utri, sentenced to nine years for Mafia association in 2004, saw that sentence reduced to seven by a ­Sicilian appeals court last month.

In effect, the court found no firm proof that the known Mafia ties Berlusconi’s aide had in the 1970s and 1980s were still ­active when Berlusconi founded Forza Italia in 1993.

In 1992-93 ­Cosa Nostra became very ­aggressive, assassinating two leading anti-Mafia prosecutors, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

In 1993 the Mafia, for the first time ever, deliberately attacked “civilians”, ­setting off bombs and killing 10 ­bystanders altogether.

Recently Italy’s current top anti-Mafia prosecutor, Pietro Grasso, ­said he believed those attacks were carried out in order to identify a new “interlocutor”, a political force that could replicate Cosa Nostra’s cozy relationship with the ailing Christian Democrats.

Grasso also suggested that some “entity” outside the Mafia had helped to pilot its actions.

His comments came as prosecutors in Palermo and Caltanissetta were investigating statements by several mafiosi that one or more secret service agents were involved in the attacks of the early 1990s and hints that two police officers, who died in mysterious circumstances after foiling a failed bomb attack on Falcone, in 1989 had been murdered.

He said: “Cosa Nostra has perhaps given up trying to bargain as equals with the state but it certainly hasn’t given up on politics.”

But perhaps the most disturbing comment of all came from Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, who was prime minister in 1993-94 and later president – a highly respected figure and a man who weighs his words.

In a recent interview with the daily La Repubblica, Ciampi spoke of how the telephone lines went down in the prime minister’s office just minutes after the 1993 Mafia bomb exploded in Rome.

“I feared we were one step away from a coup”, he said.

“I thought so then and I continue to think so today.”

A “veil of mystery” lies over who may have piloted those bombings, Ciampi said.

Will Italians ever know the truth?

Giancarlo De Cataldo, a magistrate and author of a chilling novel about that period, Nelle mani giuste (In the Right Hands), has studied the relevant police and court records at length.

Despite all the evidence, the only way to arrive at the “ultimate truth” would be something like a parliamentary truth and reconciliation commission, he said.

“Italy may ­finally have to choose between justice and knowing the truth.”

Back in Italy after a week abroad, Berlusconi put on a tough face and made it clear that he wanted his anti-phone tapping bill passed ­before next month’s break – or else. – The Nation

» Randall, a journalist and translator based in Rome, has written on Italy for numerous publications 

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