Mani pulite

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Mani pulite ( Italian for “clean hands”, meaning “white vest”) was the name of extensive legal investigations into corruption , abuse of office and illegal party financing at the political level in Italy in the early and mid-1990s. The investigation led to the end of the so-called First Republic , with the collapse of the most important political parties at the time, such as the Democrazia Cristiana and the Partito Socialista Italiano , and the emergence of dozens of new political movements. The criminal links that were uncovered by the investigations are known as Tangentopoli .

1992: The discovery of Tangentopoli

The Mario Chiesa case

On February 17, 1992 , Mario Chiesa , head of the old people's home Pio Albergo Trivulzio and exponent of the Partito Socialista Italiano (PSI) with ambitions to become mayor , was arrested in Milan after he had just pocketed 7 million lire in bribes. That 7 million was half of the agreed sum the owner of a cleaning company had to pay in bribes for a public contract, a total of 10% of the contract price. This investigation by public prosecutor Antonio Di Pietro went under the name Mani pulite , later the entire investigation complex, in which several prosecutors and judges were involved, was so named.

Bettino Craxi , the chairman of the PSI at the time, immediately denied that there was a network of corruption at the national level, and described Chiesa as a “crook” (Italian mariuolo ) and a “radical splinter group” of the otherwise honest PSI.

The expansion of investigations into corruption

In the 1992 elections on April 5, the Democrazia Cristiana lost many votes, but was still able to maintain a slight majority. The separatist Lega Nord in particular emerged stronger from the election and was not interested in any parliamentary cooperation. The following legislative period was therefore marked by great instability and the next elections should only take two years.

In April 1992, many industrialists and politicians from almost all parties were arrested on suspicion of corruption. The studies, initially limited to Milan, soon expanded to other cities. A grotesque incident occurred when a PSI politician immediately confessed to two carabinieri who had come to his home all of his criminal involvement, only to discover that they had actually only appeared to ask him to pay a fine.

The large number of arrests was mainly due to the fact that many party exponents simply withdrew their support from minor party members who were arrested, who then blurted out angrily and accused other politicians.

On September 2, 1992, Sergio Moroni , a socialist politician charged with corruption, committed suicide. In a suicide note, he pleaded guilty, but declared that he had acted not for his own benefit but for that of his party, and made it clear that the funding of all parties was based on an illegal system.

In the local elections in December, the Democrazia Cristiana lost half of its votes.

1993: attempts to resist

The collapse of the old party landscape

After Craxi had received several investigative notices, he resigned as secretary of PSI in February.

In the meantime, action has been taken against the entire political class in Italy. In particular, the country's largest party, the Democrazia Cristiana, now moved into the limelight, numerous exponents were subjected to lawsuits , including prominent members such as the treasurer Severino Citaristi , parliamentarians, mayors and even members of the Amato government . Since every minister and secretary of state charged with being charged was immediately dismissed, there has been a great deal of staff reshuffle. In the end, the Milan Public Prosecutor's Office was forced to issue a press release informing the public that no action would be taken against the holders of the five highest offices in the state (President, President of the two chambers, Prime Minister and President of the Constitutional Court).

In the local elections on June 6, 1993, the Democrazia Cristiana again lost half of the votes, the PSI practically disappeared from the scene, the Lega Nord, which campaigned against the corrupt political system with the slogan Roma ladrona ( Rome, the thief ) and had presented itself as a new alternative, became the strongest party in northern Italy; in Milan, she even provided the mayor with Marco Formentini . The left opposition also saw an increase in votes, but remained too fragmented.

Parliament's reaction

On March 5, 1993, the Amato government, and in particular the Minister of Justice Luigi Conso, tried to solve the problem politically, namely with a new law on party funding. The decreto conso that was subsequently issued was referred to by critics as colpo di spugna ("closing line"). When lawyers criticized the fact that this decree also contained a kind of amnesty for most of the accused, a nationwide protest arose, and for the first time in the history of the republic, President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro refused to give his necessary consent by calling the decree not designated constitutionally.

The Minister of Justice then resigned, soon followed by the entire Amato government, after a referendum on March 25, 1993 introduced majority voting. Carlo Azeglio Ciampi , former President of the National Bank, was appointed Prime Minister and installed a technocratic transitional government until the next elections.

In the meantime, the parliament blocked further investigations against Craxi: In April the Chamber of Deputies refused permission to continue investigations into corruption and abuse of office, only a crackdown on illegal party funding was approved. As a result, several ministers resigned in protest, although they had not even been in office for three days, including Environment Minister Francesco Rutelli , Education Minister Luigi Berlinguer and Finance Minister Vincenzo Visco .

Further investigation and the Cusani case

In mid-March 1993, a financial scandal surrounding the Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi (ENI) became public. On July 20, 1993, former ENI chairman Gabriele Cagliari committed suicide in prison, after which his wife returned Lire 6 billion of illegal funds.

Meanwhile, the trial of Sergio Cusani began . It was about illegal activities in a joint venture between ENI and Montedison called Enimont . This trial, in which many senior politicians had to testify in court, was broadcast by the state television company Rai and achieved high ratings.

The “high point” of this process was the testimony of former Prime Minister Arnaldo Forlani , who simply replied Non ricordo (“I don't remember”) when asked . The image of the obviously nervous politician with saliva around his lips became a symbol of the corruption-eaten political landscape of Italy. Bettino Craxi, however, publicly admitted that his party had received the equivalent of $ 93 million in bribes. His only defense was the words lo facevano tutti ("everyone did that").

Even the Lega Nord, which had presented itself as an alternative to conventional politics, was involved in the scandal. Umberto Bossi and the party's former treasurer, Alessandro Patelli , were convicted of illegally accepting 200 million lire.

The Partito Comunista Italiano was not entirely spared either, but only a few Milanese party members were convicted. Critics saw this as Di Pietro's sympathy for the communist party.

Attacks and threats against Di Pietro

In March 1993, when Chief Prosecutor Di Pietro sent a letter of mutual legal assistance to Hong Kong in the Craxi case , he received a message from the Falange Armate threatening to kill his son.

In June, Aldo Brancher, a manager of the Fininvest group, was arrested. Thereupon the owner of Fininvest, Silvio Berlusconi , issued an instruction to the newspaper Il Giornale , which he owned , to attack the investigating prosecutors, but the then editor-in-chief Indro Montanelli refused to accept this request. On July 17, 1993, the weekly journal of the Christian movement Comunione e Liberazione Il Sabato published a dossier on suspected misconduct by Di Pietro.

1994: The rise of Berlusconi

Fiamme Sporche

In the meantime, the scandal has transcended the boundaries of politics: after the Milan judge Diego Curtò had been arrested on September 2, 1993 , 80 men of the Guardia di Finanza (after their nickname Fiamme Gialle "yellow flames") became on April 21, 1994 Fiamme Sporche “Dirty Flames” coined) and 300 business people accused of corruption. A few days later, Fiat also admitted in a letter to a newspaper that it was involved in corruption cases.

The Berlusconi government

In 1994 the entrepreneur Silvio Berlusconi decided to become politically active and promptly won the elections on 27/28 with his newly founded Forza Italia party . March. On July 13, 1994, the Berlusconi government issued a decree favoring house arrest instead of pre-trial detention if corruption was suspected. Critics of the Prime Minister suspect the coincidence of the decree and the World Cup semi-final match Italy-Bulgaria with intent. The release from prison immediately sparked national protests, particularly in the case of former Health Minister Francesco De Lorenzo , who had embezzled funds from his household.

After many of the senior public prosecutors protested against the decree, the government was forced to quickly revoke it. She now spoke of a misunderstanding and the Interior Minister Roberto Maroni even claimed that he had not read the text at all. Unproven suspicions emerged that the author of the decree was not Justice Minister Alfredo Biondi , but Berlusconi's lawyer and then Defense Minister Cesare Previti . On July 28, 1994, Paolo Berlusconi , the Prime Minister's brother, was arrested and released a short time later.

Conflict between Di Pietro and Berlusconi

In the period that followed, a “guerrilla war” developed between the chief public prosecutor Di Pietro and Silvio Berlusconi. On the one hand there were investigations into Berlusconi's companies, on the other hand the government sent inspectors to look for irregularities in the work of the judiciary, which was supported by the media. On December 6, 1994, Di Pietro finally announced his resignation, only two weeks later the government had to resign as it would not have obtained a majority in a vote of confidence in parliament because the Lega Nord had left the coalition.

1995: The judiciary in focus

In 1995 the investigators against Tangentopoli came into the focus of the judiciary. Numerous charges were brought against Di Pietro in particular. However, it soon emerged that the chief investigator, the Brescian public prosecutor Fabio Salamone, was the brother of a man who had been arrested by Di Pietro for corruption and subsequently sentenced to 18 months in prison. Salamone was relieved of his duties and two carabinieri were arrested for defamation.

Di Pietro now decided to become a politician himself, although he had previously stated that he did not want to benefit from his popularity. The party he founded is called Italia dei Valori .

After Tangentopoli

As of 1994, many legal proceedings were suspended due to the statute of limitations. Some commentators at the time believed that in both political camps, both in the Polo delle Libertà and in the Ulivo , they saw a broad coalition against further investigations resulting in inadequate financial support for the judiciary and poor reforms that made the already time-consuming processes still further slowed down, made noticeable.

Craxi had already gone into hiding in 1994, now he spent his time in Hammamet ( Tunisia ), where he died in 2000. In absentia, he was sentenced to a total of 28 years in prison. In 1998, parliamentary intervention prevented the arrest of Cesare Previti, Berlusconi's lawyer and ex-manager of Fininvest, although Berlusconi and his alliance were now in the opposition.


Below are some figures from the Milan Public Prosecutor's Office on the Mani pulite investigation . The data cover the period February 17, 1992 to March 6, 2002.

Mani pulite Milan
Investigations against people: over 5000
More detailed investigations: 4520
passed on to other public prosecutor's offices by the persons examined: 1320
handed over to the Milanese courts by the persons examined: 3200
Revision of the official data of the Milan Public Prosecutor's Office
Mani pulite Milan
Convictions: 1254 (55.29%)
Acquittals: 910 (40.12%)
Other results: 104 (4.59%)
Completed processes: 2268 (100%)
Running processes: 467
Processes passed on to other courts: 465
All in all: 3200
Revision of the official data of the Milan Public Prosecutor's Office

Criticism of Mani pulite

The senior public prosecutors often found themselves exposed to criticism from political camps because of their work and working methods. Silvio Berlusconi stood out in particular:

I magistrati milanesi abusavano della carcerazione preventiva per estorcere confessioni agli indagati. (September 30, 2002)
"The Milan prosecutors abused pre-trial detention to extract confessions from the suspects."

However, no evidence was found to support these allegations. Others criticize the actions of Di Pietro and his colleagues by referring to the politician Cagliari and the businessman Gardini, who both committed suicide, one in prison, the other shortly before receiving the investigation notice. Cagliari had asked the prosecutors several times to be able to hold a clarifying conversation with them first. The practice of sending suspects with social, family and professional ties to pre-trial detention is also seen by many critics as a sign of an abuse of power.

In 1994 the Berlusconi government sent inspectors to Milan to look for possible misconduct. In their final report in 1995 they stated:

Nessun rilievo può essere mosso ai magistrati milanesi, i quali non paiono aver esorbitato dai limiti imposti dalla legge nell'esercizio dei loro poteri.
"There is no reason to criticize the Milanese public prosecutors, who do not seem to have exceeded any limits set by the law in their exercise of office."


  • Stanton H. Burnett / Luca Mantovani: The Italian Guillotine: Operation Clean Hands and the Overthrow of Italy's First Republic , Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham 1998, ISBN 0-8476-8877-1
  • Jens Petersen : Quo vadis, Italia? A state in crisis (= Beck series. Volume 1108). CH Beck, Munich 1995, ISBN 3-406-39208-3 (Italian edition: Quo vadis Italia? Translated by Gerhard Kuck. Laterza, Rom et al. 1996, ISBN 88-420-4875-5 ).
  • Alexander Stille : The judges: Death, the Mafia and the Italian Republic , CH Beck, Munich 1997, ISBN 3-406-42303-5
  • Alexander Stille: Citizen Berlusconi , CH Beck, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-406-52955-0

See also

Individual evidence

  1. ^ New York Times: Web of Scandal: A special report .; Broad Bribery Investigation Is Ensnaring the Elite of Italy, March 3, 1993