Italian minister hounds judges

ANDREW GUMBEL

Rome

The French anti-corruption magistrate Renaud van Ruymbeke once acknowledged that his ambition was to nail a government minister; conversely, it seems that the lifetime ambition of the Italian minister, Filippo Mancuso, is to nail an anti-corruption magistrate.

Ever since Mr Mancuso, a career jurist and former appeals court prosecutor, was appointed Justice Minister last January, he has been single-minded in his attempts to discredit the "clean hands" magistrates in Milan, whose investigations led to the collapse of the old political order two years ago.

Mr Mancuso, 74, belongs to the old school of magistrates who never challenged the system and never dared turn themselves into public personalities. He seems to be waging a vendetta against the new generation of judicial movers and shakers, bent on revolutionising Italian society.

Mr Mancuso went into even higher gear this week, opening new investigations into two of the Milan magistrates, Gherardo Colombo and Paolo Ielo. He has refused to resign, despite several no-confidence motions proposed by parliament.

Soon after his appointment, Mr Mancuso sent ministry inspectors to investigate whether the Milan magistrates had abused their office in their attempts to indict the former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. This caused a furore; when Mr Berlusconi's own justice minister, Alfredo Biondi, tried to do the same thing in July 1994, he was forced to backtrack.

Mr Mancuso's inspectors failed to turn up any dirt, so he fired them (later reinstating all but two under pressure from colleagues and public opinion). That was not the end of the story. Feeling abandoned by his Prime Minister, Lamberto Dini, he described Mr Dini as "servile" to the political forces supporting his government.

Under Italy's constitution, the only way to get rid of an irritating minister is for the whole government to resign. Mr Dini plans to do just that when his temporary mandate runs out in the next few weeks. Mr Mancuso has only one friend left in the world, Mr Berlusconi, who has his own reasons to dislike the Milan magistrates.

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