The dispute has aroused fears of a rift in the judiciary between independent magistrates investigating the corruption and other misdeeds of the discredited political class and those who either connived, or turned a blind eye.
Diego Curto, the deputy president of Milan's civil court, last week became the first member of the judiciary to come under suspicion in the 'Clean Hands' corruption investigations, although a former Supreme Court judge, Corrado Carnevale, is being investigated on suspicion of wrongfully acquitting or cutting the sentences of Mafia criminals.
His colleagues are probing the Enimont affair, the short-lived chemicals joint venture between the state-owned ENI petrochemicals concern and the privately owned Montedison giant, which is turning out to be the biggest and most complex of Italy's political scandals.
As head of the court dealing with the stormy break-up of the company, Dr Curto made a controversial decision to place 80 per cent of Enimont's shares in the hands of Vincenzo Palladino, a lawyer close to the Socialist Party who was also deputy president of a large bank.
For his services in holding the shares for three weeks Mr Palladino was paid 4.5bn lire ( pounds 1.9m) by the two companies which Mr Palladino claims were legitimate professional fees and which the magistrates suspect were the result of some political extortion.
The basis for the investigations against Dr Curto is an affidavit he wrote for Mr Palladino on 20 July - the day the former ENI chief Gabriele Cagliari committed suicide amid revelations about the Enimont affair - declaring that the sum he received was perfectly in order. Mr Palladino is in jail on charges of extorting bribes and Dr Curto is under investigation for aiding and abetting him and abuse of his office. Since magistrates are not allowed to investigate colleagues in the same city the case has been passed to the prosecutors in Brescia.
Dr Curto meanwhile has reacted by firing off charges against his colleagues to the Supreme Council of the Judiciary, its self-governing body, and to the Justice Minister, alleging abuse of office on procedural points and breach of pre-trial secrecy by allegedly leaking details of his case to the press.
Gerardo d'Ambrosio, one of the magistrates concerned, said it was an attempt to discredit the 'Clean Hands' team. 'Are judges not subject to the law?' he demanded. 'How could we carry on our work if we stopped at him, pretending we saw and heard nothing?'
'We should congratulate ourselves that it has finally happened,' commented the daily La Stampa. 'Judges are investigating judges. Why should corruption, which was everywhere, not have infected the judiciary? Did the corrupt not need the inertia, the sympathy or even the connivence of top magistrates in the right places? . . . The clean- up which the judiciary has started in the name of the law cannot stop on the threshold of its own offices.'
But the paper predicted this would spark a 'bitter struggle within the judiciary between those who connived or preferred a quiet life and those who are insisting on the right, and above all the duty, to act independently . . . A lot is at stake because it is not just about the personal destiny of one or other magistrate . . . it is about the whole way that justice is to be done.'Reuse content