With a week to go until the Italian elections, things are getting a little odd to say the least. The somewhat scandal prone Berlusconi, who self-declared himself leading in the polls just recently, has come out swinging in defense of his fellow business leaders' ethical egressions. The Bunga party banner-man defends bribery, "These are not crimes," he notes, as The FT reports, "bribes are a phenomenon that exists and it’s useless to deny the existence of these necessary situations..." This apparently on the heels of the Finmeccanica CEO's Indian helicopter deal bribes and Monte Paschi's derivative debacle. It would appear his argument lies somewhere betweeen, 'if everyone's doing it - then it's ok', and 'everyone's been doing it forever so why stop now?' One Italian paper, though, disgusted at the state of their nation, describes the entire political and elite establishment of 'guilty inertia' - calling for an end to what Berlusconi appears to be saying is corrupt business-as-usual. And yet we are to trust these technocrats when they say 'crisis over', all is well, recovery is here?
Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has defended the need for bribery in winning contracts for Italy’s multinationals, as politicians campaigning in general elections have been forced to respond to a welter of corruption scandals revolving around the nexus of politics and business.
“Bribes are a phenomenon that exists and it’s useless to deny the existence of these necessary situations when you are negotiating with third world countries and regimes,” Mr Berlusconi, leader of a centre-right coalition and seeking his fourth stint in office, said on Thursday.
Mr Berlusconi defended Giuseppe Orsi, head of the state-controlled Finmeccanica defence group who was arrested on Tuesday and accused of involvement in bribes paid to Indian government officials to secure a helicopter contract. Mr Orsi, appointed chief executive under the last centre-right government in 2011 and replaced on Wednesday, has denied the accusations.
“These are not crimes,” said Mr Berlusconi, describing payments as “commissions”. He also defended state-controlled energy group Eni, whose chief executive Paolo Scaroni is under investigation for alleged bribes paid by its Saipem subsidiary to win contracts in Algeria. Mr Scaroni denies the allegations.
Corruption scandals are dominating Italy’s election campaign, feeding a longstanding anger among voters at the close links between politics and business, with opinion polls indicating a fragmented and possibly hung parliament after the February 24-25 election.
Rival politicians predictably slammed Mr Berlusconi’s remarks, recalling he is appealing against a tax fraud conviction while painting his People of Liberty (PDL) as a party of sleaze. This week prosecutors accused Roberto Formigoni, outgoing PDL governor of Lombardy, with corruption in awarding regional health sector contracts. Raffaele Fitto, former party governor of Puglia, was sentenced to four years in prison on corruption and abuse of office charges. Both deny the accusations.
Corriere della Sera, a leading daily, slammed the entire political establishment in a front-page commentary, in particular the “guilty inertia” of Mario Monti’s technocrat government for failing to get to grips with the “cancer of derivatives” and for not intervening sooner in the case of Finmeccanica.
The riposte of Mr Monti, who is leading a centrist alliance in the elections, is that his government passed an anti-corruption law last year that would have been even tougher had the main parties collaborated.