'Ill' Craxi may not return to face trial

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The Independent Online
ROME - Will he? Won't he? Italians are speculating whether Bettino Craxi, the former Socialist prime minister and one of the principal accused in the Italian corruption scandals, will return to Italy from abroad to face a long series of trials, writes Patricia Clough.

The question arose after Mr Craxi failed to turn up to hand in his passport, as ordered by two supervising magistrates who fear he may seek to avoid justice. He faces some 20 corruption hearings. Instead, he instructed his lawyers from an undisclosed place abroad to tell the magistrates he was unable to return at present because of ill health but would do so shortly. He attached a medical certificate signed by an unidentified foreign doctor.

Just before the order was issued, Mr Craxi had been interviewed by an Italian newspaper at the beach resort of Hammamet in Tunisia, where he has a villa. His wife, Anna, and his secretary appear to be still living there but reporters are now told that the former prime minister is 'away'.

Since his political career ended early last year amid scandals and investigations he has also spent long periods in Paris. The magistrates say he has access to foreign bank accounts.

ins. by mb: Mrs Craxi moved to Hammamet from Milan in April. Then, the couple's daughter, Stefanie, told the magazine L'Europeo that her father would do well to follow her mother. 'Considering the way the wind is blowing,' Ms Craxi said, 'I don't know if it makes any sense for my father to stay in Italy. If I were in his shoes I would have been out of here some time ago.'

Mr Craxi's move has reportedly angered the 'clean hands' anti-corruption magistrates in Milan who are checking whether his illness is genuine. They have reportedly given him until the end of the week to return, after which they are expected to consider issuing an international arrest warrant. It was not disclosed what Mr Craxi said was ailing him although press reports suggested diabetes, from which he has suffered for years but which is not known to have ever prevented him moving around.

His message came as a surprise to his own lawyers, one of whom said earlier this week they had advised him to come back, hand in his passport and then appeal against its confiscation. But another, Niccolo Amato, hinted his client was already in Italy. 'There's more to Italy than Rome. It's a big country,' he said.