Corrupt men

Italy is a difficult country to understand sometimes. Yesterday, David Mills, a British lawyer married to (but now separated from) Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in an Italian gaol for accepting a bribe from Berlusconi. He accepted $60,000, so the allegations run, in exchange for false testimony to protect Berlusconi in one of his many trials. So far so good. It is right to punish this sort of corruption.

But what I can’t quite understand is why all the press (British and Italian alike) seem to be focusing on the misdeamenors of this one sad lawyer (who quite possibly would have been completely ignored had he not been married to a British politician) and not on the fact that the leader of Italy tried to bribe his way out of a sticky situation. Presumably, he should be charged as well. If the courts are to be believed.

But he can’t be for the time-being. A couple of years ago, he passed a law that made it all-but-impossible to try him for anything whilst he holds the premiership. Even when he steps down, he may still be able to get off, due to some wrangling going on in the Constitutional Court at the moment.

How is this possible? I mean, I’ve seen the way in which Berlusconi has operated for years, usually from outside and whilst writing about the European Union. But now I am living in Italy, and seeing this kind arrogant behavior from a different perspective, I am shocked that a leader of an EU country can behave in such away. I have just left a country that many in the west claim is little more than a dictatorship, inherently corrupt and run by genocidal warlords. But I never felt this level of hostility to the man that was in charge.

And the plot thickens. Due to a quirk in the ruling, Mills does not just face a term in prison, but also has to pay £250,000 in damages to the prime ministers office. This is, apparently, because Romano Prodi, who served as prime minister a couple of years ago, brought the case – and sued for damages that Mills’ false evidence caused. In a normal country, I might not worry too much about where this £250,000 is going. But Italy is anything but a normal country, and it seems totally bizarre that the office of the man accused of giving the bribe now receives this in damages.

Fine. Punish Mills. He should not have accepted the bribe. But let’s bring Berlusconi to trial, too. How can justice work otherwise?


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