Obituary: Vittorio Sbardella

Vittorio Sbardella, politician: born Rome 6 January 1935; Vice-Secretary, Christian Democrat Party, Lazio, 1976-83, Secretary 1983-86; MP 1987-94; married (one son, one daughter); died Rome 26 September 1994.

VITTORIO SBARDELLA was one of the most representative and picturesque elements of the crooked old Christian Democrat power system in Italy. And yet, with his bald, neckless head pressed straight into his barrel chest and his large hands, Sbardella looked more like a gorilla than the typical unctuous Christian Democrat politician. Italian journalists had nicknamed him 'Lo Squalo' ('The Shark'), on account of his voracious hunger for bribes and his ruthlessness in dealing with opponents. It was no secret, and hardly a surprise that, in the mid-Fifties, Sbardella had first appeared on the political scene as a neo-Fascist thug.

At the end of the Sixties, Sbardella had fallen on hard times. Already in his mid-thirties, he was barely able to find work as a salesman of cooking-gas cylinders and as a baker in small towns on the outskirts of Rome.

Sbardella re-emerged from obscurity in 1970, when a former neo-Fascist comrade hired him to put up electoral posters for the Christian Democrats. Sbardella became a faithful supporter of the former Christian Democrat mayor of Rome Amerigo Petrucci, rising through the ranks to become his right-hand man. From Petrucci, Sbardella learnt that 'personal contacts' were of vital importance. He also learnt that politics was an expensive business, that it took money to buy votes and political alliances and that, in return for the authorisation to open a shop or a building permit, grateful 'friends' in the retail and construction business would provide generous rewards.

During the next 10 years, Sbardella slowly built up an intricate web of contacts and supporters in Rome and its surroundings. His successes had not gone unnoticed by the wily old fox Giulio Andreotti, always on the lookout for new allies to increase the strength of his own faction within the Christian Democrat party. At the beginning of the 1980s Sbardella joined the ranks along with other dubious supporters, like Salvo Lima, Andreotti's proconsul in Sicily, long suspected of links to the Mafia.

Soon after, when his men played a key role in winning back the mayor's office, ending years of domination by the hated 'Reds', Sbardella became a favourite of the more conservative elements of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Rome. Sbardella's generous contributions to appropriate Church projects were greatly appreciated, as was the fact that thanks to his good offices, co-operatives run by the group Communione e Liberazione (CL) were able to secure contracts to provide lunches and services to municipal schools on a regular basis. Sbardella also financed CL's weekly magazine, Il Sabato. Sbardella's generosity was rewarded with precious votes and permitted him to establish useful relations with Rome's Cardinal- Vicar Ugo Poletti and Pope John Paul II's personal secretary, Stanislaus Dziwisz.

In 1987, thank to his extensive web of 'personal contacts', Sbardella was elected to Parliament with 127,000 votes. Through the control of huge public-works contracts, Sbardella was able to increase his power in Rome and extend his empire throughout the region. Sbardella's 'friends' were dispensed from presenting competing bids and directly awarded important public works contracts.

In 1990, after local papers named his wife and son in connection with some shady business dealings, Sbardella's fortunes started to decline. In March 1992, the Euro MP Salvo Lima, his last friend in Andreotti's camp, was killed by the Mafia and, two months later, Sbardella broke off all links with the Christian Democrat leader. Soon after, magistrates investigating the Roman side of the 'Clean Hands' corruption scandal had ensnared Sbardella in their net and he was abandoned by his supporters, who fled to join the rising stars of the media magnate Silvio Berlusconi and the neo-

Fascist leader Gianfranco Fini.

A few months ago, Sbardella made his last public appearance, at the public prosecutor's office. The once proud Shark, already engaged in his losing battle with cancer, appeared gaunt, a ghost of his former self. The reign of the last 'King of Rome' had lasted six years and now it was over. Perhaps, Sbardella had provided the best portrait of himself at the time that he claimed, in his colourful Roman dialect: 'Ho detto che so' cattolico. Non d'esse santo.' 'I said I'm a Catholic, not a Saint'.

WOLFGANG ACHTNER

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine