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 'The decree must be rescinded or at least radically modified, but in the opposite manner to that proposed by Berlusconi,' he told the newspaper.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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
News
news
News
Sir James Dyson: 'Students must be inspired to take up the challenge of engineering'
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
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 Software Engineer - Python / Node / C / Go

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: *Flexible working in a relaxed ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Bookkeeper

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This accountancy firm have an e...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Developer / Mobile Apps / Java / C# / HTML 5 / JS

£17000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Junior Mobile Application Devel...

Recruitment Genius: LGV Driver - Category C or C+E

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This national Company that manu...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?