Unprecedented conflict of interest unresolved: Here are extracts from a commentary on Italy's crisis by Eugenio Scalfari, editor of our sister paper, La Repubblica

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AN abnormal situation has arisen. Indeed, it would hardly seem an exaggeration to say that this is a situation without precedent in the history of the Italian state, and even less so in that of modern Western democracies. A government presided over by the owner of a huge business group, which is under legal investigation, wanted to incriminate the judges examining the group's affairs. It tried to de-legitimise them before they could conclude their investigations. The leader of that government was supposed to resolve the conflict of interest created by his appointment but five months later he has done nothing to solve this extremely delicate problem, and is refusing to make public the findings of the 'three wise men' he appointed to find a solution to the conflict. On top of this, the 'clean hands' group (of magistrates), instead of being thanked for cleansing the Augean stables of the First Republic, was to be persecuted for attacking the government's exercise of its powers.

We said yesterday that Mr Francesco Saverio Borrelli had committed a serious error in giving that newspaper an interview (in which he hinted that corruption investigations may implicate the Prime Minister, Silvio Berluscon) but today his reasons for doing so seem clear. Mr Borrelli knew that the Fininvest hawks who have become ministers would not have allowed the magistrates to finish their work. He knew that traps had been set up, friends alerted and mobilised. He knew that the moment of truth was fast arriving. Probably he was suffering from the anxiety of a man who, by following the process of law, was about to run up against a matter of such gravity that it would inevitably affect the political process. This is why he raised the alarm.

He acted wrongly. A prosecutor must not be affected by such concerns. He must proceed armed only with the law, which makes no distinction between an ordinary suspect and a VIP, even if he is head of government.

The whole affair brings to mind what happened to the (anti-Mafia) judge Giovanni Falcone. First he was discredited, then isolated, then he was the victim of a warning Mafia attack. Finally he was 'persuaded' to leave Palermo and his job. The situation, the actors and, fortunately, the methods, used are different today. But the philosophy and the objective are the same. When a power feels itself threatened by the law, the temptation to suspend the law wins out over respect for the rules. So the Milan team thinks it can uphold the law? Then the team must be dissolved and its leader incriminated.

This country believed that the new administration would bring good government, political calm and a hard-working respect for the law. Instead we have never before witnessed such utter chaos, such long drawn-out unrest, such social tension, such arrogance embodied in the system of government.

The days of Carlo Azeglio Ciampi's little Italy, so reviled and mocked by our new political masters, seem in comparison a distant and happy era.