PROSECUTING HIGH-LEVEL POLITICAL CORRUPTION IN ITALY (2006-2013): MAPPING JUDICIAL INVESTIGATIONS IN SEARCH FOR NEW PERSPECTIVES
Abstract: Until now, no systematic studies have been specifically developed on high-level corruption prosecution and very few and reliable information are available on the amount of investigations against high-level political actors and subsequent indictments for political corruption crimes. We believe that shedding light specifically on the prosecution side could offer relevant information both for studying corruption more broadly, and for analysing the complex linkage between judicial system and political system. As an example, a pilot study focusing on the prosecution of cabinet ministers in Eastern and Southern Europe (Popova and Post 2018) has generated some hypotheses about those factors that could be associated with a higher probability of investigation for corruption charges. With this paper, we propose a pilot study mapping the prosecution of cabinet ministers (and deputy ministers) in Italy from 2006 to 2013, using primarily media sources. Our goal is to map out the entire corruption prosecution process, from the appearance of the first allegations to the opening of a formal investigation, to the filing of an indictment by the public prosecution, and finally to the court proceedings during a trial.
Keywords: political corruption – Italy – judicial investigations – executive members
*Cristina Dallara is Assistant Professor in Political Science, Università di Bologna Dipartimento di Scienze Politiche e Sociali, Italy. Contact: Cristina.firstname.lastname@example.org
The European Review of Organised Crime 5(1), 2019, pp. 118-146.
© ECPR Standing Group of Organised Crime.
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While a growing body of research examines the causes and consequences of corruption, using sociological, economic, political and anthropological approaches (Rose-Ackerman, 1978; Scott, 1972; Della Porta and Vannucci, 2012) less has been said about the effectiveness of the judicial institutions and procedures applied to prosecute high-level political corruption. For this reason, this paper proposes to shift the attention from the causes and effects of corruption to the state’s action to curb it, through criminal prosecution. Until now, no systematic studies have been specifically developed on high-level corruption prosecution and only few reliable information are available on the amount preliminary investigations involving high-level politicians and subsequent indictments for political corruption crimes. Shedding light on these aspects could offer relevant information not only for studying corruption as a whole, but, in particular, for analyzing the complex linkage between judicial system and political system.
A pilot study conducted by Popova and Post (2018) and focusing on cabinet’s ministers in Eastern and Southern Europe, has generated some hypotheses about factors that could be associated with a higher probability of investigation for corruption charges, such as: type of ministerial portfolios, affiliation to a strong/weak party and timing of investigative action (before/during/after tenure). Taking inspiration from this research, this paper presents a mapping exercise of judicial investigations for corruption charges against cabinet’s ministers, deputy ministers and undersecretaries, in Italy from 2006 to 2013. The goal is to map out the entire corruption prosecution process, from the appearance of the first allegations to the opening of a formal preliminary investigation (from now on we will use only “investigations”), to the filing of an indictment by the public prosecutor, and finally to the court proceedings during a trial[i].
The research outcomes of such an exercise could not provide direct and systematic insights on political corruption as a whole, as the mapping exercise covers only charges of corruption against cabinet’s members; thus, also conclusions cannot be applied to the broader political corruption scenario. Cabinet members are not the only perpetrators of grand political corruption, but they are surely a good starting point for a data collection process. The rationale for this choice is both pragmatic—it could be easier to find complete information on these type of politicians, and analytical—it allows to map the entire universe of cases and not only a sample of. Our database contains, in fact, information on each and every one of the cabinet’s members (240) who served in cabinet from 2006 to 2013. This number represent a tip of an iceberg of corruption investigation, however this mapping exercise could offer new data that rarely are at disposal of policy makers, academics or experts participating in the public debate on political corruption. Moreover, this type of information could shed light on a hugely conflicting and contemporary topic for the whole Italian politics; that is the relation between justice sector and political system. At the basis of our idea to replicate the mapping exercise of Popova and Post (2018) there was the idea of verifying the existence of a so-called “politically oriented judicial system” prosecuting mainly center-right party members (Dallara, 2015); idea that, for more of two decades, dominating the Italian political debate. On this last point, the monitoring exercise offers some interesting insights: 1) it provides empirical measures for a massive judicial activity in relation to corruptions crimes involving high-level politicians; thus, confirming the interpretation offered by other scholars studying the topic (Sberna and Vannucci, 2013; Mungiu-Pippidi 2018) describing a peculiar attention and activity of the Italian magistracy in prosecuting high-level politicians’ corruption crimes suspects, especially after the 1993-1994 Mani Pulite phase; 2) It shows also huge attention of the magistracy on all the cabinet’s members, independently from coalitions or political parties membership. More than a politicized justice – frequently claimed as one of the Italian uniqueness by some of the political factions – the mapping exercise offers a picture of a bipartisan prosecution of the governing coalition members, independently from the political orientation—at least concerning cabinet’s members; 3) it offers an overview on the efficacy of the judicial prosecution activity concerning corruption crimes. In fact, the results denote a systemic difficulty for reaching a final judgment in court, especially with a conviction verdict. Data prove that, in spite of a high number of preliminary investigations, we found out a few amount of convictions; a high number of investigations ended with a dismissal conclusion. This conclusion shows, once again, a persistent weakness in the repressive action punishing political corruption and suggest further reflections on the efficacy of the procedural and structural framework currently applied.
Moreover, the research outcomes presented in this paper offer empirical data for further reflection on an interesting hypothesis advanced by Sberna and Vannucci (2013) about the negative effects of a politicized anti-corruption prosecution. If an effective and “impartial” prosecution against corruption charged could foster political and electoral accountability (preventing the re-election of guilty politicians), a high number of investigations with a lack of convictions produce the opposite risk. Political actors would start to profiling themselves as victims, increasing the intensity, polarizing the political debate and claiming against or fostering the judiciary. Party leaders will tend to systematically discharge suspected politicians to minimize the feared electoral drawback. This produces a sort of loopholes effect on the judicial system that makes the prosecution of corruption crimes ineffective most of the times.
The paper proceeds as follow: first section frames the issue of anti-corruption in Italy with some reference to the role of the judiciary and presents the main shortcomings related to the data commonly used to measure corruption incidence. Second section presents the mapping exercise conducted on the three cabinets in charge from 2006 to 2013, firstly making reference to the already-mentioned study of Popova and Post (2018), and then specifying the methodology applied to map in the Italian case. The third section presents the main results. Further reflections are then included in the concluding section.
POLITICAL CORRUPTION IN ITALY: OLD PROBLEMS AND LATE SOLUTIONS
Italy enjoys the reputation of having one of the biggest and hugest problems of corruption among Western Democracies. Nevertheless, the corruption issue did not have a strong impact on politics until the 1993 Tangentopoli’s (Bribesville) scandal. The media coverage of Tangentopoli’s scandal and the investigative action called Clean Hands’ “pushed the issues of corruption and public ethics to prominence” (Hine, 2015). The Clean Hands scandal—that is, a scandal that originated from wide-ranging investigations into political corruption proved to be a critical juncture for the initiation of the process of mediatisation of justice that then ensued. It was in the 1990s that the magistracy intentionally began to seek media attention to legitimise their investigations (Guarnieri and Pederzoli, 2002). This was mainly pursued by individual judges and prosecutors involved in politically sensitive trials, who became the public actors personifying the entire investigation (Della Porta, 2001). The result was the creation of a media–judiciary circle that contributed to a further increase in the capacity of judges to build public opinion in the field of justice (Giglioli et al, 1997; Dallara, 2015).
Then, during the two decades dominated by Berlusconi as key actor of the Italian politics, the floor was captured by his long-running personal crusade against the so called “politicized” judiciary. In this political phase, it emerged a peculiar feature of the Italian political system that Sberna and Vannucci (2013) describe as “politicization of the anti-corruption” (2013, p. 566) judicial activity, that reached the peak in 2006-2008, with the exacerbating Berlusconi anti-judicial rhetoric (Dallara, 2015). Claims that the judiciary was biased became the distinctive feature of Berlusconi’s political action and the expression of a key political value (anti-judicial rhetoric) for the centre-right coalition. This led to a permanent polarization of the public and political debate around the anti-corruption issue (Dallara, 2015).
In such a context, the issue of corruption, and moreover the need of an anti-corruption comprehensive policy, lasted and remained in the backstage for several years (Vannucci, 2009). The ensuing momentum to combat corruption was weakened by this Berlusconi’s judicial struggles, by the center-right’s undermining of the judiciary and by the center-left’s rather uncertain commitment to the goal. Nevertheless, it is possible to observe the spread of norms against corruption, although these have not really permeated the Italian political system and public administration (Hine, 2015). Here anti-corruption policy is characterized, as in many other policy sectors, by many proposals with a permanent gap in approving and implementing concrete measures (Vannucci, 2012; Dallara, 2013).
The first comprehensive Anti-Corruption Law (190/2012), entered into force only on 28 November 2012, under the technocratic government led by Mario Monti. It represented the first comprehensive anti-corruption text ever approved in Italy, collecting methodically international organizations’ suggestions and recommendations from academics, scholars and expert commissions. It also introduces relevant provisions related to the rules preventing politicians convicted of corruption from running for election and for public offices charges. Anyone who has been sentenced to more than two years of punishment must lose his or her position in political office. New rules regarding those convicted of public administration crimes, even if with non-definitive sentence, are banned from assignments in the field of financial resources to become members of tender commissions (Merloni and Vandelli, 2010).
Another point of concerns relates to the absence, for many years, of anti-corruption specialized agency: a targeted national institution, today present in the majority of the European countries, having as main task that of preventing corruption and supporting the judicial institutions in the prosecution action.
After a decade in which various offices and commissions exercised, partially and with huge limits, some of the anti-corruption agencies functions[ii], only in 2013, the National Anti-Corruption Authority (ANAC) was finally created as an independent and autonomous agency for the assessment and transparency in public administrations.
The institution is currently headed by the judge Raffaele Cantone, former deputy prosecutor in the District Anti-Mafia Directorate of Naples. The institution was gradually empowered in the last three years and started to function as an efficient hub to collect claims about corruption suspects and to support the judicial authorities in the prosecution activity.
In a nutshell, in spite political corruption was an old and unsolved issue of Italy dating even before the Tangentopoli scandals, until 2012-2013, the fight against corruption in Italy was characterized by a limited and ineffective political action. Many reflections and interpretation, mainly related to the nature of the political and party system, were offered by social sciences to explain this permanent lacking willingness to enact specific and effective polices (Benson and Baden, 1985; Pizzorno, 1992; Della Porta and Vannucci, 1999; Vannucci 2009).
Relevant problems concern also a reliable assessment and measurement of corruption. The action at the basis of the corruption phenomena is not clearly visible and traceable for its own nature. To be measured that act must be brought to light and made visible. Corruption is, in fact, a sort of “silent crime” and, as Vannucci efficiently explains, “like other victimless crimes nobody has an interest in reporting the phenomenon, it is difficult to measure and official statistics do not represent a reliable source of information on its extent” (2009, p. 236).
The same type of data and information could generate different and divergent interpretations. A major number of denounced cases could stand for a major judicial capacity in prosecuting corruption crimes. However, it could also mean that corruption is really widespread. Similarly, a few cases could account for a declining trend in corruption crimes or, on the contrary, for an increased ability of corrupting actors in hindering their affairs. In spite of that, the problem of measuring corruption is crucial and essential, both for the scientific analysis of the phenomenon and for setting preventive and fighting strategies (Vannucci 2012). Up to now, the data more frequently used to measure corruption derive from the crossing of different sources of information such as, international surveys and indexes, statistical analysis, legal documents and media reports; however, none of these sources allows obtaining a precise measurement of the phenomenon (Vannucci 2009).
Data commonly cited to report and debate on corruption are those, although highly criticized, offered by international indexes and monitoring exercises measuring individual perceptions about corruption or sampling direct experiences of corruptive practices. As such, they offer only a spot description capturing only some aspects of the phenomenon (Dallara, 2013). Moreover, they often represent a small sample of the entire population or only certain categories of professionals (often entrepreneurs) enquired, throughout interviews or questionnaires. Among the most diffused and cited: the corruption perception index of Transparency International (Corruption Perception Index, CPI), some specific Eurobarometer surveys, the Global Competitiveness Index and the World Bank’s World Governance Indicator (WGI).
The other main source of information about corruption in Italy is represented by the judicial statistics collected by the Ministry of justice or the Italian National Institute of Statistic counting for the number of investigations, proceedings, and trials for corruption crimes, over the time. Although these types of data could be potentially crucial to understand the phenomenon, they provide only a partial representation, as they are essentially based on the amount of prosecution action taken by judicial authorities. In other words, these data represent only those corruptive facts for which someone has decided to blaming and denouncing. Moreover, data on corruption crimes present many concerns in term of reliability and such a problem could mislead a trend analysis.
First of all, in Italy, judicial statistics and aggregated database are not updated and the way data are processed is not the same for each judicial office. The Ministry of Justice is always laggard in collecting data on judicial proceedings and, according to some judges and prosecutors the method applied to collect data is not well organized. According to many Italian judges and prosecutors, the level of reliability could be really different for each office and “each chief public prosecutor could organize and collect data differently and slightly modify whether or not to insert within the statistics some (may be not so relevant) proceedings. Much depends on the way each office decides to classify the claims and to register them, when the public prosecutor starts an investigation” (focus groups transcription)[iii]. Huge differences could also derive from the way cases and proceedings are registered. Each office could adopt slightly different methods of classifying and registering the claims, producing, involuntarily, a jeopardized landscape of data and statistics.
Moreover, according to Davigo (2007), in a country having its flaw of submerged economy and having the primacy for the amount of contradictory and ambiguous laws, the Italian prosecuting system is characterized by intrinsic lack of evidence making harder to reach a final judgment. Considering all the shortcomings briefly resumed in this paragraph, mapping judicial investigations against cabinet’s members could offer a new and insightful information, suggesting new perspective to analyze this phenomenon.
MAPPING JUDICIAL INVESTIGATIONS IN THREE ITALIAN CABINETS
The work presented here is based on an empirical exercise, put in place in 2015-2016, conducted by the author, together with two students of the University of Bologna[iv]. The time span analyzed covers from 2006 to 2013. In these seven years, Italy has experienced a peculiar political phase, since three governments, with three different political positioning, were successively in office. All of them ended in advance for the resignation of their leaders. The first was the center-left Prodi II government, from 17 May 2006 to 8 May 2008; this was followed by the center-right Berlusconi IV government, in office from 8 May 2008 to 16 November 2011, and finally, from 16 November 2011 to 28 April 2013, the technocratic government headed by Monti.
The Study of Popova and Post (2018)
The main source of inspiration for our mapping exercise was the research of Popova and Post (2018) consisting in a pilot study to analyze judicial investigation for political corruption involving cabinet ministers in Eastern Europe. They provide an empirical analysis of the phenomenon, by examining the executives from 2000 to 2012 in seven Eastern European democracies (Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, and the Slovak Republic) mapping all the investigation for corruption crimes, involving cabinet ministers.
To this end, they have built the Eastern Europe Corruption Prosecution Database which contains information on 927 cabinet ministers in the selected countries. The database includes names, portfolio, tenure (starting and ending), party membership, gender, and the corruption prosecution experiences, which describes the type of investigation, the timing, if it was filed in court and finally its conclusion (distinguishing between dismissal, acquittal or conviction).
The descriptive analysis highlights that 56 cabinet ministers out of 927 have faced corruption-related criminal charges. Observing the indictments rates by country, they found that Bulgaria and Romania have roughly the 10% of cabinet ministers criminally indicted; Macedonia, Croatia, Poland and the Czech Republic with the 5-7% of indicted ministers, while in Slovakia just two ministers have been prosecuted. Furthermore, Popova and Post (2018) underline that most indictments take place while ministers were no longer in office, noticing an average lag between minister’s term in office and indictment of 21 months. For this reason, they include a control variable that reflects the amount of time spent in the office.
The authors formulate three hypotheses to understand what leads to corruption indictments. In more detail:
- The first hypothesis is: engaging in corruption increases the probability of indictment (2018, 238). Even if, criminal justice systems may produce some distortions because sometimes-guilty individuals avoid sanction and innocents get punished. They argue that some ministers have greater opportunities to commit corruption-related offenses because their portfolios involve more discretionary spending than average, or contracts in less competitive sectors. Thus, they posit that corruption activity could be proxied by the minister’s portfolio assignment.
- The second hypothesis is focused on cabinet ministers’ party membership. They hypothesize that: “belonging to a stronger party lowers a minister’s chances of an indictment because stronger political parties can protect their members from indictment” (2018, p.238).
- The third hypothesis is that “ministers in countries with independent anti-corruption prosecution agencies will face a higher probability of being indicted, ceteris paribus” (2018, p.238).
Then, in order to test the first hypothesis, they assume that corruption activity is linked with the minister’s portfolio assignment. They identify the corruption-prone portfolios using Transparency International’s Bribe Payers Index ranks sectors. In addition, they consider the corruption’s perception in the country during the minister’s tenure in office, using the World Bank’s World Governance Indicator Control of Corruption. On this basis, they point out that the ministries of agriculture, transportation/communications, and economy/industry would be furnished by more corruption opportunities. In fact, these portfolios are characterized by more discretionary spending, and they could conclude contracts in less competitive sectors.
Testing the second hypothesis, they operationalize two proxies of party strength—junior/senior status in the governing coalition and being a communist successor party. The rationale for the first variable is that senior governing coalition parties would have greater access to state resources than their smaller partners. Furthermore, with regard to the third hypothesis, they have examined the presence of anti-corruption agencies in each country. The analysis confirms the central role played by anti-corruption agencies to tackle political corruption as indictment rates’ increase where they operate.
THE REPLICATION OF THE STUDY IN THE ITALIAN CASE: METHODOLOGY
Being aware of all the methodological faults we could face in replicating the study of Popova and Post (2018) with reference to the Italian political system, we decided anyhow to try, introducing some adjustments, in virtue of the added value this exercise could provide for. First of all, we focus on a single case study; secondly, we examined a shorter period and a minor number of individuals in respect to the study of Popova and Post (2018).
At the basis of our idea to replicate the mapping exercise of Popova and Post (2018) there was the idea of verifying the existence of a so-called “politically oriented judicial system” prosecuting mainly center-right party members (Dallara, 2015); idea that, for more of two decades, dominating the Italian political debate. Thus, our main interest was devoted to look for variance in the political membership of the individuals under investigation. For this reason, we selected a span of time (2006-2013) with three cabinets, consecutive one to the other, with different political orientation and one of them was composed mainly by technocratic experts, without political affiliation.
The second Prodi government remained in office from 2006-2008 (for 1 year, 11 months and 21 days); it was composed by 26 ministers, 10 deputy ministers and 66 undersecretaries, for a total of 103 individuals[v], including the Prime Minister, Romano Prodi. The governing coalition was named the Union (Unione), composed by many and heterogeneous parties. Among the major parties the Democrats of the left (DS), Democracy is freedom – the Daisy (DL), Communist Refoundation Party (PRC), the Greens (FdV), Italy of Values (IdV).
The Berlusconi IV cabinet remained in office from 2008 to 2011 (for 3 years, 6 months and 8 days) and it was initially composed of 21 ministers, 37 undersecretaries and no deputy minister, for a total amount of 58 members, with Silvio Berlusconi as head of government. At the time of the President resignation in 2011, the Government was composed by 22 ministers, three deputy-ministers and 37 undersecretaries (63 components). Considering these changes in the government composition, we have worked on a total amount of 83 political actors. The governing coalition was composed by the People of Freedom (PdL), Lega Nord, Movement for Autonomy (PT-MpA) and, since March 2011, the Populars of Italy Tomorrow (PID). Other small groups and movements joined subsequently the coalition which was characterized by several changes in its composition. Despite that, the two major parties of the coalition remained PdL and Lega Nord.
Finally, the technocratic cabinet headed by professor Monti, which lasted from 2011-2013 (1 year, five months and 12 days), was composed by 20 ministers, 32 undersecretaries, 4 of which acted also as deputy minister, for a total amount of 52 political actors. Mario Monti, acted as Prime Minister and as Minister of Economy and Finance until 11 July 2012, when the office was assigned to Vittorio Grilli.
As for the first hypothesis, concerning the type of portfolio, we use the same criteria of Popova and Post (2018). Thus, we looked for the ministries/offices with the high number of investigations. Then, in order to verify the second hypothesis, we needed to adapt the methodology followed by Popova and Post (2018) to the characteristics of the Italian political system. The concept of ‘strong party’, as operationalized by the two cited authors, cannot be adequately transposed into the Italian party’s system. In fact, in order to assess the party strength, they proposed two proxies: junior/senior status within the governing coalition and being/not being communist successor party. The rationale is that senior governing coalition parties would have greater access to state resources than smaller and newly created parties. Although, it is a really interesting reflection, its usefulness is limited to the post-communist political context. For the Italian case, we propose to test this hypothesis verifying if the individuals belonging to the major parties in governmental coalitions are those less charged of investigations. The aim is to check whether or not the number of investigations opened is lower against the individuals belonging to the major parties of the governing coalitions.
As for the third hypothesis, concerning the influence of an anti-corruption authority, it is not applicable in our single case study. Moreover, the Italian anti-corruption authority was officially in place only from 2014 (Decree Law 90/2014, converted into Law No. 114/2014) as ANAC (National Anti-Corruption Authority). It is functionally independent from the executive, but it is only entrusted with supervision and prevention of corruption within the public administration, in checking companies and tenders (following public contracts), in spreading transparency and legality criteria within those sectors sensitive to corruption phenomena.
The lists of the individuals considered for our mapping exercise were constructed with the names of each Minister and Undersecretary from the website of the Italian Government, specifying the portfolio they held and/or the Ministry in which they worked, how long the tenure lasted, the party affiliation and gender. In order to test the hypotheses previously described in the Italian case we applied the same method followed by Popova and Post (2018). We used the Google search engine employing some fixed keywords, adopted together with the name of each member of the three governments presented above. The sequence used was the following one: name of the Minister / Deputy Minister / or Undersecretary + investigation + corruption, for example: “Mastella + investigated + corruption” This was the input for the first level research, then, after having found some initial information, a snow-ball strategy has been applied using more specific keywords. Often, after the case has been identified it was used directly the Minister (or Undersecretary) name and the kind of crime or the specific offense, for example: “Mastella + investigated + abuse of office” The same logic was applied to get more specific information about the steps of the judicial investigation using the name of the investigation “Mastella +investigation + name of the inquiry”.
In selecting the sources of information we adopt a “hierarchical method”. Firstly, newspaper articles, then, websites and finally blogs and. We focused in particular on the four widely diffused national newspapers, such as La Repubblica, La Stampa, Corriere della Sera and Il Sole 24 Ore. Additional information was drawn from opinion magazines like Il Fatto Quotidiano, Il Giornale, or The Huffington Post Italy. Then to verify some aspects mentioned in the national press, we also used blogs or web-pages specifically focused on corruption of the Italian political leaders[vi], although they cannot be considered as totally unbiased and reliable sources of information. As for undersecretaries, in addition to the aforementioned sources, also web-sites and blogs of local newspapers were consulted, as frequently these new were reported in the territorial area to which undersecretaries belong to. Table 1 shows the structure of the Database as it was filled.
Table 1. Structure of the Database.
|Name of theMinister||Portfolio||Tenure (starting and ending)||Party- membership||Gender||Corruption-related investigations||When?(1)Before (2)during(3)after tenure||If yes,Filed in court?||Ended How? (1) dismissal(2) acquittal(3) conviction(4) pending(5) statute of limitation|
|1.||Franco Frattini||External Affairs||Full||PdL||M||YES (Abuse of office)||During (2011)||Procura di Roma (then Trib. dei Min)||DISMISSAL-CLEARED|
|2.||Roberto Maroni||Interior Minister (Home affairs)||Full||LegaNord||M||YES (Abuse of office)||After(2014)||Procura di Milano, Inchiesta Expo||PENDING|
|3.||Ignazio La Russa||Defence||Full||PdL||M||YES (Embezzelment)||During (2011)||Corte dei Conti||CLEARED|
|4.||Nitto Francesco Palma||Justice||Until 27/07/2011||PdL||M||NO||—–|
|5.||Angelino Alfano||Justice||From 28/07/2011||PdL||M||YES (Abuse of office)||During (2008)||Procura di Roma||DISMISSAL|
Source: Extract from the author’s database.
Overall, our mapping was conducted on 240 subjects who served as Ministers, Deputy ministers and Undersecretaries, from 2006 to 2013 (see Table 2). Among that, 60 individuals (out of 240) have been investigated (Table 3) for one or more of the following offences: corruption, embezzlement, fraud, organized crime (associazione a delinquere), loss of revenue, defamation, vote trading, facilitation, market manipulation, fraudulent misrepresentation, slander and threats, bid rigging, illegal financing, induction by compulsion, fraudulent misrepresentation, false accounting, improper influence, fraudulent bankruptcy and false reporting[vii]
Table 2. Amount of Individuals Considered for Mapping in Each Government (2006-2013).
|Government||Total Ministers and Undersecretaries considered for the mapping exercise|
|Prodi II (2006-2008)||105|
|Berlusconi IV (2008-2011)||83|
Source: Author’s own elaboration.
Table 3. Total of Individuals under Investigations for Corruption-related Charges.
|Under investigations?||Prodi II(1 y, 11 m)||Berlusconi IV(3y, 6m)||Monti(1y, 5 m)||Total|
|Total cabinet members||105||83||52||240|
Source: Author’s own elaboration.
Another interesting data, to be recalled later on, is the one concerning the total number of investigations for each cabinet, bearing in mind that there are several individuals that were subject to more than one investigation each one (see Table 4).
Table 4. Total Amount of Investigations in Each Cabinet.
|Prodi II(1 y, 11 m)||Berlusconi IV(3y, 6m)||Monti(1y, 5 m)|
Source: Author’s own elaboration.
It is worth to stress that, data concerning the total amount of investigations related to ministers of the Berlusconi IV cabinet, do not consider the investigations against Berlusconi that are 11*. In the Table 4bis we tried to normalize the total amount of the investigations for the months each government spent in office.
Table 4bis, Number of Investigations Normalized for the Months in Office.
|Prodi II(23 months)||Berlusconi IV(42 months)||Monti(17 months)|
|Number of investigations normalized for the months in office||1,4||1,3*||0,4|
Source: Author’s own elaboration.
As for the Berlusconi IV we considered also the 11 investigations related to Berlusconi himself and thus counting 54 investigations (43 + 11). As concerns members subject to more than one investigation for corruption related charges these are: 7 in the Prodi II cabinet (5 Ministers and 1 Undersecretaries); 9 (6 Ministers and 2 Undersecretaries) in the Berlusconi IV and none in the Monti Cabinet.
Testing the Hypotheses
HP 1: The corruption-prone portfolios are more frequently subject to investigations
Concerning the first HP, Popova and Post (2018) have assumed that the ministers, who hold office in a ministry with a portfolio more susceptible to corruption, are those having major probability to be subject to investigations; this is because certain portfolios and departments are much more exposed to substantial flows of money or because there is a greater chance to take crucial decisions on substantive and structural policies. The portfolios identified in the study of the two authors are those suggested by the Transparency International Bribe Payers Index[viii]: 1. Ministry of agriculture; 2. Ministry of transport/ communications; 3. Ministry of economy and/or Industry; 4. Ministry of defense.
The information gathered in our database allows us to test this hypothesis for all the three cabinets.
Table 5 shows comparatively the portfolios with major number of investigations in each one of the cabinets.
As for the Prodi II executive data show that of 32 total inquiries, 6 were related to activities involving the Ministry for economic development, 3 the Ministry for Infrastructures, while 2 investigations pertain to the defense Ministry. The validity of the first hypothesis is also confirmed by the data collected for the Berlusconi IV and Monti cabinets. These data show that the portfolios with the highest number of investigations are the Ministries of economic development, both for the Berlusconi IV government and the Monti one; followed by Infrastructures and Finance. The Ministry of Agriculture presents high scores only for the Berlusconi government.
Table 5. Portfolios with Major Number of Investigations in Each One of the Cabinets.
|Government||Portfolios with more investigations (ministers)||Portfolios with more investigations (undersecretaries)||Total for each cabinet||Total for all the 3 cabinets|
|Prodi II||Justice: 6 (*)Environment: 2Infrastructures: 2External affairs: 2Cultural Heritage: 2Social Solidary: 1Education: 1Regional affairs:1Healthcare: 1||Economic development: 6Defence:2Finance and economy: 1Justice:1Cultural Heritage:1Infrastructures:1Transports:1Youth:1||Justice: 7Economic development: 6Infrastructures: 3Cultural Heritage: 3Environment: 2Defense: 2External affairs: 2Finance and economy: 1Social Solidary: 1Education: 1Regional affairs: 1Healthcare: 1Transports: 1Youth: 1||Economic development: 15Agriculture: 7Justice: 10 (*)Infrastructures: 6Environment: 5Cultural Heritage: 4Finance: 3External affair: 3Regional affair: 3Defense: 3Healthcare: 3Bureaucratic simplification: 2Education: 2Interior: 2Federalism: 1Transport:1Tourism: 1Decentralization: 1Work: 1Reforms:1Youth:1|
|Berlusconi IV||Economic development: 5Agriculture: 4Infrastructures: 2Regional affair: 2Finance: 2Environment: 1External affair: 1Interior: 1Defense: 1Justice: 1Health: 1Semplificazione:1Federalism: 1Tourism: 1Decentralization:1||Finance: 4Economic development: 4Agricultural policies: 3Justice: 1Infrastructures: 1Education: 1Reforms: 1Bureaucratic simplification:1Environment: 1Work: 1||Economic development: 9Agriculture: 7Finance: 6Infrastructures: 3Bureaucratic simplification: 2Environment: 2Justice: 2Regional affair: 2Interior: 1Defense: 1Health: 1Federalism: 1Tourism: 1Decentralization: 1Work: 1Reforms:1Education: 1External affair: 1|
|Monti||Interior:1Environment:2||Undersecretary to the Presidency:1Health:1Justice:1Culture:1||Undersecretary to the Presidency:1Health:1Justice:1Culture:1Interior: 1Environment: 1|
*: 5 of them were in charge to the Minister Mastella involved in several proceedings.
Source: Author’s own elaboration.
HP 2: Stronger parties are able to insulate their members from investigations
As already explained, in order to test this hypothesis, we looked if the individuals belonging to the major parties in governmental coalitions are those less charged of investigations. The aim was to check whether or not the number of investigations opened is lower against the individuals belonging to the major parties of the governing coalitions.
In the Italian case the majority parties of the governing coalitions are those displaying more inquiries, considering the total number of individuals under inquiry; even if also the “smaller” parties of the governing coalitions are interested by a high number of investigations (Table 6).
As for the coalition of the Prodi II government, it was called the Union and was formed by the Ulivo (composed by the Left Democrats – DS, by Democracy is Freedom – DL, plus some independent members), plus a number of other minor parties, including Udeur, Italy of Values, Communist Re-foundation and others. The “major parties” could be identified in those forming the Ulivo. On the total amount of individuals (20) investigated in the second Prodi government, 14 belong to the Ulivo group. More precisely, 5 belong to the DS party, 8 to DL and 1 was an Independent for the Ulivo.
If we try to consider this data in relation to the whole number of the cabinet members for each party, adopting a sort of normalization (Table 6bis), the results display that 19% of the individuals belonging to the major parties (14 out of 74 members) were under investigations; while the percentage is almost the same for the “smaller” parties of the collation: 20% of the individuals were under investigations (6 out of 30 members).
Table 6. Party Membership of Ministers and Undersecretaries under Investigation.
|Government||N° of ministers under investigation for each political party||N° of undersecretaries under investigation for each political party|
|Prodi II||DL: 3 (out of 7 DL ministers)DS: 1 (out of 9 DS Ministers)Indip. ULIVO: 1 (out of 3 ULIVO Ministers) UDEUR:1/1PrC:1/1IdV:1/1FdV:1/1Others: 0/3||DL: 5 (out of 21 vice-ministers and undersecret.)DS: 4 (out of 28 vice-ministers and undersecret.)Indip. ULIVO: 0 (out of 4 undersecret.) UDEUR:1/1RnP:1/4PrC:0/7IdV:0/2FdV:0/2Others: 0/7|
|Berlusconi IV||PDL: 13 (out of 17 Ministers) Lega Nord:3 (out of 3 Ministers)PT:1 (out of 1 Ministers)||PDL: 11 (out of 53 vice-ministers and undersecret. considered)Lega Nord: 3 (out of 5 vice-ministers and undersecret.)PT:2 (out of 2 vice-ministers and undersecret)|
Source: Author’s own elaboration.
Table 6bis, N° of Individual (Ministers and Undersecretaries) under Investigation in Major Parties’ vs Smaller Parties out of the Total of the Members.
|Government||N° of individuals under investigations belonging to the major parties||N° of individuals under investigations belonging to the “smaller” parties|
|Prodi II||ULIVO (DL +DS +Indip. ULIVO): 14 out of 74 members (19%)||UDEUR+RnP+PrC+IdV+FdV+Others: 6 out of 30 members (20%)|
|Berlusconi IV||PDL: 24 out of 56 members (43%)||Lega Nord + PT + others: 9 out of 27 (34%)|
Source: Author’s own elaboration.
The situation is slightly different for the Berlusconi IV cabinet. Here the overall number of investigated members is 33, including ministers and undersecretaries, 24 belong to the PDL (People of Freedom), the founding party of the ruling coalition between 2008 and 2011, followed by the Northern League, the second-largest party in the government composition, with a total of 6 members investigated, and 3 members investigated in the small PT party (see Table 6). If we consider these data in relation to the total amount of the PdL member present in the cabinet (both as Ministers and Undersecretaries) the results show that 24 out of 56 PdL members were under investigations (43%) while, in the smaller parties, the individuals under investigations were 9 out of 27 members (34%). Thus, for this cabinet the HP2 proposed by Popova and Post (2018) is not validated. Here the major party (PdL) was the one more subject to the judicial action. The HP2 cannot be checked in relation to the Monti cabinet in reason of its technocratic nature. The members of that government were not professional politicians, and only 6 of 52, were members of a political party, while one was a bureaucrat from the armed forces. In fact, they are properly classified as independent. The second hypothesis, therefore, is not expressively validated in the Italian case. Besides, the data collected testify a strong bipartisan judicial attention on the members of the major political parties, both in the center-left and the center-right governing coalitions (see Table 6). What it is clear from the data is that, both in the center-left and in the center-right executive, the major parties of the governing coalition were massively interested by judicial investigations for corruption related crimes.
Timing and Final Outcome of the Investigations: The Contentious Topic
Some interesting reflections could emerge if one looks at the timing of the investigations in relation to the cabinet’ tenure and, even more, at their final outcome, both in term of how many (on the total of the investigations opened) have been then filed in court and how they ended (meaning if they ended with conviction or with other conclusion). As for the timing, Table 7 shows that the majority of the investigations started during the tenure in office of the cabinets. However, the number of the investigations started after the end of the tenure is quite high.
Table 7. Timing of the Investigations in Each Cabinet, Ministers (Min) and Undersecretaries (Und).
|Ministers||Prodi II||Berlusconi IV||Monti|
Source: Author’s own elaboration.
One of the most controversial point concerns the number of investigations that, after the period of judicial inquires, are then filed in court. This is particularly relevant as, only for the investigation in which concrete elements of suspect are found, the judge for the preliminary hearing decides to file them in court starting with the real trial phase. Table 8 shows that the number of investigations filed in court is quite low compared to the number of investigations opened.
Table 8. Total Amount of Investigations Filed in Court (rinvio a giudizio).
|Government||TotalInvestig opened||Ministers’ investigations filed in court||Undersecretaries investigations filed in court||Total Investig. filed in court|
Source: Author’s own elaboration.
Data about the conclusion of the investigations are the most relevant to be considered, but at the same time the less reliable to be assessed. This is somewhat due to the problem mentioned in Section 2 of this paper (official statistics not updated and not homogeneous), but also due to the Italian media system and its attitude in reporting judicial cases about corruption. In fact, it was quite easy to find information about the opening step of the investigations, meanwhile it was difficult, due to the lack of news, to trace the final steps of the inquires. For the Prodi II cabinet, due to the time elapsed, we were able to find a good number of final sentences and thus we are sure about the conclusion of such investigations. As for the Berlusconi IV cabinet, we encountered more difficulties due to the high number of cases still pending.
Moreover, as already mentioned, data on the amount of cases ended due to the statute of limitation are really difficult to find out as this information is not frequently spotted in media, except for the cases that catch permanently the public opinion attention, such as Berlusconi’s trials. Moreover, no official information could be found on that type of conclusion in the official judicial decision databases. Thus, data presented in Table 9 have to be read with caution, especially those referring to the fifth (Pending cases) and sixth (Statute of limitation) columns, as some cases that we codified as still pending could then be ended due to the statute of limitation expiration.
Table 9. Final Outcome of the Investigations in Each Cabinet.
|Government||Dismissal(archiviata)||Acquittal(Assolto)||Conviction(Condanna)||Pending(Pendente)||Statute of limitation(Prescrizione)||Tot|
Source: Author’s own elaboration.
On the contrary, data about the amount of dismissed cases, about acquittals and convictions are quite reliable as we were able to find precise news or the final decision in the official databases.
The results of the mapping exercise presented in this article offer interesting insights for further reflection in term of relation between courts and democracy, in term of judicial activism and its effect on the fighting against corruption.
First of all, the mapping confirms a high level of “judicial activism” in Italy, meaning for a massive judicial activity in relation to corruption crimes involving high-level politicians. Thus, confirming the trend of a peculiar attention and activity of the Italian magistracy on this topic starting from the 1993-1994 Mani Pulite scandals (Sberna and Vannucci, 2013; Mungiu-Pippidi, 2018). In comparing data on Italy with the seven Easter democracies considered by Popova and Post (2018) in Table 10it is surely worth to consider the differences in term of institutional frameworks and the peculiarity of the Italian judicial system, but it is undeniable that the number of investigations involving Ministers and Undersecretaries is really high: 60 people out of 240 have been investigated (Table 3), for a total amount of 82 investigations.
Table 10. Indictment Rates by Country According to Popova and Post (2018).
|Indicted||Bulgaria||Croatia||Czech Rep||Macedonia||Poland||Romania||Slovak Rep||Total|
Source: Popova and Post (2018)
Data about Italy show a peculiar attention of the magistracy on the high-level members of the cabinets. More than a politicized justice—for two decades the target of the Berlusconi rhetoric (Dallara, 2015)—the mapping exercise offers a picture of a bipartisan prosecution of the governing coalition members, independently from the political orientation. Conversely, the results of this mapping exercise show a high number of investigations, independently to the political orientation of the cabinet.
This trend is confirmed also at the regional level, a study conducted by Rullo (2018) mapping judicial investigations for corruption crimes against president of the Italian regions shows that the judiciary action seems to be independent from the president party membership.
Another main point to notice is that, in spite of a high number of investigations we found out a few amount of convictions (Table 8 and 9). In fact, a high number of inquiries ended with a dismissal conclusion. Which are the effects of such a situation in term of political and electoral accountability? (Sberna and Vannucci, 2013). An effective and impartial prosecution against corruption practices carried out by high-level elected politicians could foster electoral accountability. More specifically, prosecution of corruptive practices might impact electoral accountability if effective prosecution of corrupt practices turns finally into convictions and legal sanctions. If not, the risk is the opposite. Sberna and Vannucci (2013) define this situation as the politicization of anti-corruption. Political actors would start to profiling themselves as victims, increasing the intensity of the debate and opposing against or fostering the judiciary. Party leaders will tend to systematically discharge suspected politicians to minimize the feared electoral drawback. This produces a sort of loopholes effect of the judicial system that makes the prosecution of corruption crimes ineffective most of the times, especially as regards to the selection of political leaders and potential candidate This situation led to a progressive decreasing of the whole quality of the Italian democracy
Moreover, the lack of conviction negatively impacts on the legitimacy of the judicial action and corroborate the polarization of the political debate on a supposed politicization of the magistracy. If most of the time investigations ended without convictions, the perceived effectiveness of the anti-corruption prosecution decrease and consequently weakens the incentives for those denouncing or refusing corruptive activities.
Finally, this study supports for an echoing role of the media when dealing with political corruption issues. As Mancini et al (2017) find out, Italian press tends to emphasize and dramatize corruption cases involving domestic public administrators and, in particular, politicians. The majority of articles and web-sites consulted shows an obsessive attention of the media in the first phases of the investigations, when the judicial action is launched and it started providing the names of the political actors involved. Then, just after the opening of the inquiry, it is frequent a phase of iper-detailed news bombing about all the political actors involved, even if not directly touched by the investigations. Recurrent are the cases of ministers and undersecretaries’ names, only mentioned in telephone tapping and for this reason considered the protagonist of the inquires.
Meanwhile, it was really difficult to find out reliable and precise information about the following steps of the investigation path. The ending phase of the investigations is reported more frequently if there is a conviction, rarely if the inquiry has been dismissed. Our exercise thus shows that it is difficult to trace the entire investigative and prosecution process using only media sources. Further analysis and additional sources would be needed to map the ending phases of the prosecution action.
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[i] The Italian criminal procedure begins when a crime (in Italian notizia di reato) is reported to the Public Prosecutor’s office by the Judicial Police (Polizia Giudiziaria) or by any other means (citizens, press). During the preliminaries investigations phase the Judicial Police and the Public Prosecutor carry out a detailed enquiry into the alleged crime. This phase ends with the request for closing the procedure without further action -dismissal (archiviazione) or the initiation of penal action, filing case to court (rinvio a giudizio). In this second case, a trial starts against a person alleged to have committed the crime. The trial ends with the conviction (accusa) or the acquittal of accused (assoluzione), depending on whether he is found guilty or not. Against the decision both the Public Prosecutor and the accused can bring an appeal to continue on enforcing their reasons.
[ii] In 2003, as a specific requirement of the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption (signed in 1999, but nor ratified until 2012) the II Berlusconi government established the “High Commissioner for the Prevention of Corruption”. Then, in 2008 Berlusconi decided to close this office, replacing it with another new body called Anti-corruption and Transparency Service (Servizio Anticorruzione e Trasparenza, SAET). In 2012, another specialized office was created inside the Ministry for the Public Administration (CiVIT – the independent Commission for Evaluation, Transparency and Integrity of Public Administrations) acting as the National Anti-Corruption Authority until 2013.
[iii] The extracts cited here are drawn from the minutes of the focus-groups held by the author at the Italian National School of the Magistracy (Scandicci, Florence) during a training sessions, devoted to judges applying for court-president or chief-prosecutors, specifically focused on “how to collect and process data about the office”. (see http://www.scuolamagistratura.it/formazione-dirigenti/formazione-dirigenti-anno-2016.html)
[iv] Luigi Rullo (PhD candidate), collaborating in the whole data analysis, and Veronica Gamper, working for her dissertation, did the analysis for the Prodi government (2006-2008).
[v] The Prodi government was characterized by the early dismissal of two political actors: Marco Verzaschi, Undersecretary of Defense that resigned on December 7, 2007. He has been investigated for corruption and bribery three days after his appointment; and Paolo Giaretta, Under-secretary for the economic development, who opted for a seat in Parliament. For this reason, the considered total amount of individuals that served this cabined is 105.
[vi] As an example, L’incredibile parlamento italiano (the unbelievable Italian parliament), Politicicorrotti.it (Corrupt Politicians) or Il Blog di Beppe Grillo (the Blog of Beppe Grillo, Five star movement).
[vii] The translation of the specific terms related to the offences could be not completely correct due to the peculiarity of the juridical meanings. Here, as follow, the list of the Italian terms: corruzione, peculato, truffa, danno erariale, diffamazione, voto di scambio, favoreggiamento, aggiotaggio, falso ideologico, calunnia e minacce, turbativa d’asta, finanziamento illecito, induzione per costrizione, dichiarazione fraudolenta, falso in bilancio, influenze illecite, ricettazione e appropriazione indebita, bancarotta fraudolenta e false comunicazioni.
[viii] The Transparency International’s Bribe Payers Index ranks sectors of the economy according to the frequency with which survey respondents identify them as dominated by bribe-demanding bureaucrats and politicians and bribe-offering business actors. See http://www.transparency.org/bpi2011.