HE HAD become one of the symbols of the rot that has eaten away at Italy's political system. Sergio Moroni, 46, a Socialist member of parliament from Milan, was one of scores of Italian politicians currently under investigation for allegedly demanding bribes in return for a public contract.
He had not even been charged, much less convicted. But the fact that he was being investigated had shattered him and on Wednesday, in a desperate gesture that has shaken the country, Moroni shot himself. He was the fourth suspect to commit suicide in the sensational corruption investigations against Milan politicians, including the brother and other close associates of Bettino Craxi, the Italian Socialist leader - investigations that have shown up the shocking extent and brazenness of corruption by all the long-established parties.
But Moroni was by far the most prominent suicide, and he illustrated his political and personal drama for the whole country in a letter he left behind for the president of parliament, Giorgio Napolitano. 'I committed the error of accepting the 'system', but I cannot allow myself to be called a thief because I personally never benefited by a single lira . . .' he wrote. 'For many years a great vehicle of hypocrisy, shared by all, disguised the parties' way of life and their methods of financing themselves.' The parties were going to have to change, 'but it is not fair that the wheel of fortune should pick out individuals to be the sacrificial victims'.
He complained of an 'atmosphere of pogroms' in which the official notice that a person is under investigation - designed to enable them to prepare their defence - is regarded as a conviction. He said he hoped that because of his death other people in his position would not have to suffer as he had done.
Moroni's death helped to fuel the bitterness among some Socialists over the investigations. 'They have created a vile atmosphere,' Mr Craxi spluttered to journalists. Mr Craxi, whose ambition to become prime minister again was thwarted because of his closeness to those in the case, did not say who 'they' were. He has recently been attacking the investigating magistrates, hinting darkly of murky doings but without producing any evidence.
These tactics have horrified other Socialists, some of whom have pointed out that the magistrates are only doing their duty. The party is divided and the position of Mr Craxi, who appears to be desperately defending the old, discredited system, has been considerably weakened.
The investigating magistrates say they cannot be held responsible for Moroni's tragic death. 'Although I regret to say so at this moment,' said one, 'the consequences of crimes fall on those who commit them, not on the public prosecutor'. But some magistrates appear to share Moroni's view that it is unfair to punish certain politicians for crimes that were virtually universal and tacitly accepted.
The Christian Democrat Party, which is also in deep trouble, is proposing to reduce prison sentences for repentant colleagues who pay back the money. But it remains to be seen whether the Italian public, outraged at the thieving, would tolerate culprits being let off lightly.
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