Berlusconi decree threatens coalition

ROME - Italy's Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said yesterday he was ready to resign over a decree backed by the Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, that lifts the threat of jail from corruption suspects.

Mr Maroni, a member of the federalist Northern League, told Italian television he had asked his party to decide by today whether he should stay at his post and called for the decree to be scrapped in its entirety, rather than amended.

'I am ready to resign my mandate on Monday,' Mr Maroni said.

His statement turned a political storm over the decree into a full-blown crisis for Mr Berlusconi's two-month-old coalition government, swept to power on a wave of public disgust with corruption in politics.

The League, which built its reputation on fighting graft, is the biggest party in parliament and ensures Mr Berlusconi's three-party coalition its majority.

Mr Maroni made his threat just hours after Mr Berlusconi said he was backing the decree to the hilt and would amend it only to make it harder for magistrates to hold suspects in preventive detention.

Rejecting talk of a whitewash for corrupt politicians as a 'despicable lie', the media tycoon said in a statement: 'I may be courting unpopularity but I will do everything in my power to empty the prisons of everyone held there against the universal principles of human rights.

'No citizen should be imprisoned without first being convicted. In Italy, in the Second Republic, justice must return to being a model of civility.'

In an interview with the daily L'Unita published yesterday, Mr Maroni had said a radical amendment of the decree might be acceptable. 'The decree must be rescinded or at least radically modified, but in the opposite manner to that proposed by Berlusconi,' he told the newspaper. 'Otherwise I would have to reconsider my remaining here in the Interior Ministry.'

Four leading members of Milan's elite pool of 'Clean Hands' magistrates spearheading the assault on graft told their superiors yesterday they were resigning their posts.

The move by the four, including the charismatic Antonio Di Pietro, made good a threat they made on Thursday to be asked to transfer to other work in protest at the decree.

The measure, which Mr Berlusconi says was approved unanimously by his cabinet, was issued on Wednesday and removes corruption, bribery and a string of other crimes from a list of offences for which suspects can be held in preventive detention in jail.

Mr Maroni said the published text differed from a draft he had approved and said he had received assurances that corruption suspects would not be freed from jail.

'I have decided to put my job in the hands of the federal council of the Northern League so that they can assess my behaviour to decide whether I had the wool pulled over my eyes or whether I have betrayed the years of battle the Northern League has waged against this system of corruption,' he said.

A government spokesman and cabinet-ranking member of Mr Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, Giuliano Ferrara, rejected Mr Maroni's allegations and accused him of infantile behaviour.

The decree remains in force for 60 days but will not take a permanent place on the statute books unless it is approved by parliament. The National Alliance, the third partner in the coalition, has also said it wants the decree changed.

Mr Ferrara said on Friday that Mr Berlusconi's government would 'pack its bags' if the measure failed to get through parliament.

Almost 500 people, including 53 corruption suspects, have already been released from Italy's overcrowded prisons, whose population has doubled to 53,000 in two years.

In Naples, protesters jeered 'Thief, Thief', spat and threw coins as the former health minister Francesco De Lorenzo, suspected of plundering funds on the backs of the sick, was released from the city's Poggioreale prison.

Mr De Lorenzo and the former Socialist party deputy leader Giulio Di Donato, who was held in the same jail, were both driven home in police cars with black plastic bags over their heads to be held under house arrest.

'I asked for guarantees that De Lorenzo and Co. would not be let out, and I got them,' Mr Maroni said.

He estimated that 20,000 to 30,000 inmates of Italy's jails, where half the prisoners are awaiting trial, could be freed under the decree, which he called a threat to public order. The Italian prison department estimates 4,000 could benefit.

Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
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 General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Trainee Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines