This included a major concession from the Vatican to revise the so-called Concordat, eliminating Roman Catholicism as Italy's official state religion. Mr Craxi was delighted by his political longevity. But his saying "the best vacation is power" came back to haunt him in the early s when his Socialists, along with the Christian Democrats they ruled with in coalition after coalition, went down in disgrace.
Bribes He fell suddenly and dramatically during the huge "Tangentopoli" Bribesville scandal which began in February when an associate was caught taking a bribe. Magistrates probed allegations that he had taken millions of dollars in bribes from businessmen.
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Mired in scandal, Mr Craxi was forced to resign as head of the Socialist Party he dominated for 17 years. A mob gathered outside the central Rome hotel which Mr Craxi had long used as his base and the former premier came under a hail of coins and pieces of bread as he left the building. In absentia After fleeing to Tunisia, Mr Craxi was tried in absentia and twice convicted by Italian courts, receiving a total of 27 years in prison, of which nine years and eight months were upheld by appeal courts.
In the first case, he was sentenced to five and a half years in jail in a scandal over bribes paid by insurance company SAI to win an insurance contract from state energy group ENI.
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The second case, in which he was alleged to have taken bribes for himself and the Socialists in exchange for supporting firms' bids to build the Milan metro, ultimately won Mr Craxi a four-year jail sentence after crawling its way through the legal system. He was declared an official fugitive from justice in July Ill health Mr Craxi had been in poor health for years, suffering from complications of diabetes. Last November he underwent surgery to remove his right kidney.
He had hoped to return to Italy for treatment, but refused a deal under which he would have been treated in a Milan hospital while in custody.
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Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema said last year that the centre-left government would have no objection to his return to Italy but the courts would have to decide any leniency over outstanding charges against him. But Italy -- deadlocked by the political confusion that followed the collapse of the old political system -- has still not managed to tackle some of the key sources of corruption.
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Public administration still functions on a buddy-system, while conflict of interest remains a dimly-understood notion for many Italians, including Mr. Berlusconi who has seen no problem in being both a Prime Minister and owner of a vast business empire -- including three television stations.
Berlusconi remains the prosecutors' most vociferous opponent, and for obvious reasons. In the last month, he has been charged twice -- once as head of his giant Fininvest business empire, which is accused of having paid bribes to tax inspectors, and the second time for evading taxes on the purchase of property utside Milan. In a separate case against Publitalia -- the advertising arm of Fininvest that stands accused of sponsoring sports events as a way of concealing slush funds, prosecutors put its chief executive in jail for two weeks and for the first time, threatened to put the privately held company under public trusteeship.
Berlusconi's campaign against the Milan prosecutors -- he calls them "judges in red robes," in an allusion to their alleged leftist bias -- has been a running theme in Italy's recent political drama. But it has also clouded a serious look at the prosecutors' far-ranging powers, which even Mr. Berlusconi's critics agree is overdue. Sergio Romano, a respected political commentator, calls the current situation "a constitutional skirmish between branches of government," in which the magistrates have assumed powers that "hang like a sword of Damocles over the entire political class, continually conditioning their movements.
Romano in an interview. Colombo marvels at the resistance he still finds to the idea that corruption is bad. As an example, he cited the recent case of a public official who sought a bribe from the wife of a businessman who was in jail on corruption charges. We must begin to believe that it is more convenient for a society to be clean rather than corrupt.
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Inside the corruption investigations that rocked Italy to its core
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