Italian MPs vote for Craxi to face corruption charges

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The Independent Online
THE LIFE of Giuliano Amato's government is hanging by a thread after the national outcry over its disastrous attempt at the weekend to keep errant politicians out of jail.

The cabinet, which met to discuss the debacle yesterday, will wait to see the reaction in parliament before deciding what to do, said Francesco Merloni, the Public Works Minister. 'It is not certain that a crisis has been averted.' Both houses of parliament debate the issue today.

Shaken, perhaps, by the vehemence of public opposition to the government's move, a parliamentary commission voted yesterday to recommend that the Chamber of Deputies allow the prosecution of Bettino Craxi, the former prime minister and Socialist leader, on charges of corruption, violating the law on political party finances, and receiving stolen property.

They thus went even farther than proposed by their rapporteur, who had advocated lifting Mr Craxi's parliamentary immunity on the first two charges only. Mr Craxi spoke bitterly of a 'summary justice' which does not 'bow before truth and the law'.

The corruption investigations meanwhile produced further shocks: two of the most eminent captains of Italy's state industry were taken off to jail for corruption and violating the party finances law. They were Gabriele Cagliari, president of the petrochemicals giant, ENI, Italy's second biggest state holding, and Franco Ciatti, head of the Nuovo Pignone, an ENI subsidiary.

Mr Amato last night appointed Valdo Spini, a Socialist, as Environment Minister to replace Carlo Ripa di Meana, who resigned in protest against the government's attempt at a 'political solution' to the corruption problem.

Mr Amato will address both houses of parliament today on the attempt to 'depenalise' the taking of illicit funds by politicians. He will doubtless inform them of the cabinet's intention to re-propose changes to the law on political party financing in the form of an amendment in parliament. The decree had been blocked by President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro at the weekend amid massive protests that the corrupt political class was attempting to absolve itself.

President Scalfaro, who is struggling to keep Italy's democracy on the rails, had insisted that the government stay, Mr Merloni disclosed. There appears to be no viable alternative in parliament to this four-party coalition with a perilously thin majority of 16. Giorgio Benvenuto, the new Socialist party leader, said the coalition was anxious not to leave a power vacuum.

Nevertheless rumours that the government would go had circulated much of the day. Mr Amato admitted that the thought of resigning had passed through his mind when his coalition partners failed to support him during his black weekend.

Being left alone in the firing line with Giovanni Conso, the Justice Minister, had evidently upset him even more than the hostile choruses of whistles and shouts of 'thief, thief' and 'buffoon' as he went to give a lecture in Milan's Bocconi University the previous day. Mr Conso had been pelted with sponges in Turin, a mocking allusion to his insistence that the government's move was not a colpo di spugna - an attempt to sponge the slate clean.

Some opposition parties are demanding that the government give up and call fresh elections. But Mr Benvenuto said the coalition was opposed to that because it would automatically cancel the crucial referendum on 18 April on electoral reform and stop parliament from then producing a new electoral law which could solve at least some of Italy's political problems.