Nearly a year ago, as public anger at corruption and misrule was welling up, Mr La Malfa led his party, despite strong internal opposition, out of the ruling coalition saying: 'I do not want to be a part of this. I want nothing to do with people who are trying to destroy the image, wealth and morality of Italy.' Since then he has been an incisive critic of government policies.
Yesterday he received a notification that he was under investigation for - he said - having received a donation for the printing of election campaign material without reporting it, in violation of the laws on party financing.
A notification does not amount to a charge and the offence seems minor, particularly compared with the alleged extortions by fellow politicians. But Mr La Malfa had said he would go if ever he came under investigation and he did so, stating: 'The bigger the political responsibility, the greater the duty of honesty one owes to the people.'
He follows Bettino Craxi, the Socialist leader and former prime minister, who resigned under a crushing number of accusations, as well as three government ministers, regional government leaders, mayors and the heads of many public bodies or state-owned companies.
His departure overshadowed the confidence vote that the Prime Minister, Giuliano Amato, won comfortably in the Chamber of Deputies a few hours later, after much restlessness among members over Sunday's reshuffle. The lira, which had dropped yet further with the news of Mr La Malfa's resignation, recovered after the vote from its week-long slide.
The case of Mr La Malfa appears to indicate how hard it is for any politician in the established parties, even fundamentally honest ones, to remain untouched by the deeply ingrained illicit practices of the past. The Republicans, who now have about 5 per cent of the vote, have been in government for a good part of the post-war period, and although they are not as deep in the mire as the bigger Christian Democrats and Socialists, some have been besmirched.
Mr La Malfa hoped, by leaving the government, to win the votes of those who wanted reform of public life. But these votes went mainly to new movements, such as the Northern League.
Giampiero Pesenti, one of Italy's richest men, was put under house arrest yesterday on suspicion of involvement in corruption. He heads a giant construction concern, and is a director of some of Italy's most prestigious companies.
Tragedy has struck for the sixth time since the beginning of the corruption investigations a year ago. Sergio Castellari, the former director of the now-defunct ministry responsible for state-owned companies, was found dead in the countryside outside Rome, a half-drunk bottle of whisky by his side and a Smith & Wesson pistol in his belt.Reuse content