The Italian Socialist leader, Bettino Craxi, caught up in a bribery scandal wreaking havoc on the country’s established parties, was fighting for his political life today.
The man often regarded as the power behind Prime Minister Giuliano Amato has angrily denied any shady dealings and refused to resign ahead of a party congress next April, blaming party officials for any financial wrongdoing. Mr. Amato won a vote of confidence in Parliament today despite the sacndal.
But demands for Mr. Craxi’s head within the badly split party are bound to grow after he was formally notified Tuesday of being suspected of corruption and of taking illegal contributions to party funds. Opposition groups were also quick on the attack.
OME — Italy’s worst corruption scandal ensnared a former prime minister Tuesday, and the business world recoiled from the arrest of two of the country’s most senior state industry executives.
As opposition voices demanded a new government, a parliamentary commission voted to strip former Prime Minister Bettino Craxi of his legislative immunity. Craxi had faced 41 accusations of corruption, participating in illegal party financing and receiving bribes.
The full Chamber of Deputies must endorse the commission’s vote before Milan magistrates can prosecute Craxi, who was prime minister from 1983 until 1987.
Claiming innocence, Craxi, 59, who lost his post as head of the Socialist Party when charges were first announced, failed to convince the 20-member commission that the charges represent a political vendetta. The chamber nearly always follows the recommendation of the commission, which found cause for judicial investigation into 35 of the accusations.
As head of the Socialist Party, Craxi was urged by party members to purge the party of the wrongdoers. Members of his family were directly involved—Craxi’s brother-in-law Paolo Pillitteri was accused of personally accepting suitcases full of money while he was Mayor of Milan and his son Vittorio’s election to local office was paid for by Mario Chiesa, whose arrest started the entire investigation. Craxi himself came under investigation, although he fought back, claiming that since all the political parties took the bribes, they must all answer for their crimes. This did not halt the investigation, and ruined Craxi’s chances at a comeback as Prime Minister or President of Italy in 1992.
In 1994, Craxi went into self-imposed exile in Tunisia. He was sentenced, in absentia, to 13 years in prison for fraud and in 1996, an additional 8 years after having been found guilty of further corruption charges.