Mr Clean quits the Italian Cabinet

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The Independent Online
Antonio Di Pietro, the magistrate who led the assault on corruption in Italy, resigned as Public Works Minister yesterday after his lawyer confirmed he was under investigation by prosecutors in Brescia.

Mr Di Pietro, the former magistrate who spearheaded the Milan prosecutor's office's "Clean Hands" anti-corruption inquiry until his resignation from the magistrature in 1994, is believed to be under investigation for graft, embezzlement and abuse of office.

From Istanbul, where he is attending an anti-corruption seminar, Mr Di Pietro wrote to the Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, attacking "over-zealous and over-imaginative investigative bodies, and the press, which creates news even before it has happened". He reserved his severest condemnation for "those people who wish to use me to delegitimise the Clean Hands investigation on the one hand, and the government and institutions on the other."

The resignation shocked political circles, which have had an ambivalent relationship with Mr Di Pietro since he entered the government six months ago.

His resolute fence-sitting during last spring's elections made the left wary of him when he finally agreed to join their government. Forza Italia, the leading right-wing opposition party, has often been scathing about the man whose investigations brought the party leader, Silvio Berlusconi, to court. Often he and his followers have demanded Mr Di Pietro's resignation.

Mr Prodi told the lower house of parliament yesterday that he would ask Mr Di Pietro to withdraw his resignation "in order to continue making his precious contribution to the government's work". Walter Veltroni, the Deputy Prime Minister, denied that the resignation "will have any effect on the executive".

The political clout of Mr Di Pietro, who achieved almost saint-like status when he led the Clean Hands team, was confirmed in polls this week. His presence in any political line-up would swing up to 20 per cent of the vote that way. A separate party led by him would have the support of 41 per cent of the electorate, one poll indicated. In another, a vast majority of respondents said they did not believe accusations of corruption against him.

Gerardo D'Ambrosio, Mr Di Pietro's former colleague at the prosecutor's office, said: "Had Clean Hands been wrapped up, they'd have left us in peace. This has all happened because the investigation is still open. Eventually all we Clean Hands magistrates will find ourselves under investigation."

Mr Di Pietro's resignation came 24 hours after the Supreme Court handed down its first high-level definitive rulings in Clean-Hands corruption cases. It sentenced the former prime minister Bettino Craxi to five years and six months in prison.

t Rome - Alessandra Mussolini yesterday resigned from the party that descended from the regime of her grandfather, Benito, AP reports.

Ms Mussolini, an MP for the right-wing National Alliance, said differences with the party leader, Gianfranco Fini, led to her resignation. Her remarks indicated she felt he had not given her a prominent enough role when he reorganised the leadership. "I thought he wanted to use new people, or prominent people."