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Italy Passes Monti’s Anti-Graft Bill Amid Political Scandals

Prime Minister Mario Monti won a confidence vote in the Senate today on an anti-graft bill as he seeks to hit back against corruption with the country hobbled by the biggest wave of political scandals in two decades.

The Upper House in Rome voted 228 to 33 in favour of the government. Italian administrations routinely use confidence votes, which stake their survival on the outcome, to end debate and speed the legislative process. The bill still needs to pass through the Chamber of Deputies before it becomes law.

The new rules broaden the definition of corruption, make influence-peddling a crime, toughen punishments and introduce measures to prevent statutes of limitations from upending convictions. The law also aims to make public funding of political parties more transparent. The vote in the Senate comes after corruption scandals toppled the regional government of Lazio, where Rome is located, and threaten to bring down the administration in Lombardy, which has Milan as its capital.

“This is a second Bribesville, and it seems unavoidable to say so,” Justice Minister Paola Severino told Sky TG24 television on Oct. 14, referring to the political corruption scandals of 1992-1993 that wiped out the country’s dominant political parties. “The sheer number of cases that has come to light makes it evident.”

Corruption Ranking

Italy ranked worst among all euro-area countries except Greece in Transparency International’s global corruption ranking last year. Corruption accounts for 1 percent of the European Union’s gross domestic product, which would amount to 16 billion euros ($21 billion) for Italy, the European Commission said in June. In April the Council of Europe’s Group of States Against Corruption called on Italy to amend its criminal code to strengthen controls on political-party financing and beef up penalties for corruption.

Monti said today that the bill will help attract investment to Italy and cited conversations with the Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani that he was reluctant to invest in Italy because of corruption issues.

The legislation, which languished for more than two years in Parliament, was originally drafted under the government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is currently on trial for abuse of power. The original law included measures to limit the use of wiretapping in criminal investigations, a practice that had contributed to several Berlusconi indictments.

Mafia Infiltration

Monti’s government overhauled the bill to make it more focused on punishing corruption and the vote comes after the administration disbanded the city council of Reggio Calabria in southern Italy to end alleged infiltration by criminal groups.

It also follows the arrest of a local government member of the Lombardy Region in the North by prosecutors for allegedly buying votes from the ’Ndrangheta, the Calabrian mafia. The region’s governor Roberto Formigoni is under investigation on allegations of corruption in a separate inquiry and denies any wrongdoing. On Sept. 24 Lazio Region President Renata Polverini resigned amid a party financing scandal. She is not under investigation.

Both Polverini and Formigoni were elected as heads of their regions in 2010 with the support of then Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Liberty Party.

One of the reasons the law took so long to be approved was the division among lawmakers over whether it should include rules to prevent politicians convicted of corruption from running for election. Severino told senators today that the government is willing to present specific legislation on this matter within a month.

Influence Peddling

The Council of Europe’s anti-corruption arm has called on Italy, which signed the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption in 1999, to classify private-sector corruption and influence peddling as crimes and lengthen the statute of limitations for corruption offenses.

Still, some observers say that the law’s approval is too little too late and the government needs to make the fight against crime and corruption its top priority and invest new resources.

“It’s a weak law,” Roberto Saviano, the author of the bestseller “Gomorrah” about the Naples mafia, told la Repubblica on Oct. 15, before the government released a final draft of the bill. Monti “needs to act soon in order to deal with corruption as with a national emergency and not as a problem like many others,” Saviano said.

The Rome-based newspaper said more than 300,000 Italians signed an appeal it published last month calling on Parliament to approve the new law.

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