Di Pietro, Antonio

▪ 1994

      Enjoying name recognition and adulation typically accorded to rock stars and professional athletes, Antonio Di Pietro discovered in 1993 that fame had its liabilities, too. The Milan magistrate, whose Mani Pulite ("Clean Hands") anticorruption drive gave rise to graffiti testimonials ("Grazie, Di Pietro") throughout Italy, found that only with a police escort in a bulletproof car could he travel. Worse yet, the man who sought to expose and sweep away wrongdoing at the highest levels of Italy's political and business establishment was himself targeted with accusations of abuse of power.

      Di Pietro was born in southern Italy in 1950. He was raised in modest circumstances and served a brief stint in Germany as a migrant factory worker before turning to a career in law enforcement. Di Pietro worked his way through night school as a police officer, earning a degree in jurisprudence. In the mid-1980s he became a magistrate, a position that in Italy functions as both a detective and a prosecutor.

      In the late 1980s, Di Pietro gained a reputation for high-tech crime busting; he used computers to compile and store vast amounts of data on individuals involved in scams. By scrutinizing both these early cases and computer dossiers, Di Pietro and his associates uncovered a systematic corruption scheme in which businesspeople routinely paid bribes to receive government contracts. In early 1992 Di Pietro led the Milan sting operation that nabbed a Socialist Party leader as he accepted a payoff in exchange for a city contract. Several weeks later the accused politician began naming accomplices from far beyond the boundaries of Milan.

      The scandal was vast and revealed that corruption had become routine and institutionalized in Italy. Virtually all the political parties participated in the graft, while major businesses collaborated to arrange the beneficiaries of given contracts. As the investigation gained momentum, business executives reportedly sought appointments with Di Pietro to reveal what they knew and to implicate Italy's leading politicians, all in an effort to escape arrest and imprisonment themselves. The most prominent of those fingered, former prime minister Bettino Craxi, resigned from Parliament and launched a counterattack. His claim that Di Pietro was part of a conspiracy to eradicate Italy's Socialist Party generated little support. Craxi's charge, however, that the Milan magistrate was acting like a medieval inquisitor gained resonance because Di Pietro was reportedly incarcerating untried executives and politicians with common criminals (some infected with the AIDS virus) in Milan's San Vittore prison. Though Di Pietro's methods appeared harsh to some, few sympathized with the alleged offenders, who reportedly had cost taxpayers some $20 billion over the past decade while securing inflated government contracts for themselves. (JEROLD L. KELLMAN)

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Universalium. 2010.

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