Home Featured A very Italian scandal
A very Italian scandal

A very Italian scandal

by host

Press play to listen to this article

Voiced by artificial intelligence.

The palm line has risen. 

More than 50 years ago, Sicilian writer Leonardo Sciascia issued a metaphor-cloaked warning to Italy — the palm trees dotting the country’s southernmost region would migrate north as the climate warmed. 

The “line of the palm,” Sciascia called it. 

The message, broadly speaking: The mafia intrinsic to Sicily — and the eternal battle it brought between authorities and powerful outlaws, between the law and corruption — would soon infiltrate all of Italy. To believe it would remain in Sicily was an illusion.

Now it seems the palm line has etched itself beyond Italy to most of Europe and now to Brussels, the EU’s beating heart. Bags of cash, under-the-table bribes, a consulting firm laundering money — the allegations emerging in the so-called Qatargate scandal are corruption at its elemental level, classic mafioso behavior. And Italian suspects — although no mafia — have been involved in each stage.

Even a key law being used to secure confessions is imported from Italy — one that helped Italy flip and imprison mafia members in Sicily and elsewhere for years. 

Italy itself jumped into the fray this week, with Milan authorities reportedly launching a probe into whether a local consultancy was used to funnel bribes from Qatar to European Parliament members, placing the scandal squarely in the country. 

Qatargate, in other words, has a distinctly Italian flavor. And, ironically, Italians are responsible for both partly causing — and perhaps also rooting out — the potential rot infiltrating Parliament.

It’s a striking symbolism that illustrates Europe’s evolving nature on corruption, politics and the police tasked with rooting out evil in the institutions — governmental or otherwise — that control everyday life. 

Earlier this year, Belgian authorities scored a major victory when they deployed (for just the second time) a so-called pentiti law — Italian for “repent” — to flip Antonio Panzeri, an Italian and former European Parliament member. Under the law, even unrepentant terrorists and mobsters can get lighter sentences if they dish on their criminal cohorts. 

And that’s exactly what Panzeri did, promising to finger those he bribed as the operation’s alleged ringleader in exchange for less time behind bars. Since then, more EU lawmakers have been arrested and charged with corruption.

Belgium is not alone in adopting Italian laws designed to fight organized crime. The Netherlands has also written, or is considering, parts of these rules to help combat the drug trade proliferating through its ports.

Italian investigators say they started warning northern officials long ago that the cocaine trade was now flowing through ports in Rotterdam and Antwerp | Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images

The fact that mafia-fighting laws are being deployed against government corruption is no surprise. Investigators often stress that eradicating the mafia and uncovering corruption go hand in hand. The former, they stress, cannot prosper without the latter. 

Another link between the organized crime spreading through Europe and the government corruption apparently infiltrating the European Parliament is that they have both proliferated under political systems slow to face what seemed apparent to many. 

Longtime EU watchers had always assumed it was just a matter of time before something like Qatargate — which also includes allegations that Morocco may have illegally swayed Parliament decisions — surfaced.

Similarly, the fingerprints of organized crime have long been imprinted on European countries like Belgium, the Netherlands and others in the north. In Sweden, a recent explosion of local and foreign mafia violence prompted one journalist to openly wonder: “Is this Sweden … or Sicily?”

Italian investigators say they started warning northern officials long ago that the cocaine trade was now flowing through ports in Rotterdam and Antwerp. And just two months ago, an 11-year-old girl was killed during an apparent drug-related shooting in Antwerp. 

“We speak of containers full of drugs, but it seems they don’t notice them,” an Italian investigator said roughly a decade ago. 

Even six years ago, the Italian press was filled with stories explaining that investigators believed  “the triangle” of Antwerp, Rotterdam and Duisburg in Germany was welcoming “the bulk of the cocaine consumed in Europe.” More recently, the Italian anti-mafia prosecutor Nicola Gratteri claimed Germany was not Europe’s “second country” in terms of mafia density.

Italy’s pentiti laws may help stymie this spread — but they also require a grisly tradeoff.

In the 1980s, Mafia members in Naples took advantage of the laws to falsely tar Enzo Tortora, one of the country’s most famous and respected journalists, as a drug trafficker. Tortora, who was innocent, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. 

“The greatest example of wholesale judicial butcher shop,” was how Italian journalist Giorgio Bocca described it. 

Decades later, one of the mafia’s pentiti apologized, admitting he had made it up. It was far too late. While Tortora’s innocence was upheld in 1987 by the nation’s highest court, he died a year later at 59.

The lesson: Even the repentant have selective memories — and scores to settle. And a confession alone can’t make a case. 

If Panzeri is indeed the mastermind of the cash-for-influence operation, he will still get rewarded for snitching first | European Union

Then there’s the hard-to-swallow reality that the law will inevitably protect those who may seem the most deserving of punishment.

The judge who strongly pushed for using pentiti laws in mafia cases, Giovanni Falcone, was actually killed by a car bomb. The mobster who detonated it later benefitted from the law himself, turning police informant. Today, while the judge is dead, the so-called people slayer (u scannacristiani) is out of prison and living under police protection. 

Similarly in Brussels, if Panzeri is indeed the mastermind of the cash-for-influence operation, he will still get rewarded for snitching first.

But the calculation is that unfairness is a price worth paying in the battle against corruption and the mafia. And in Brussels, offering Panzeri a shorter sentence to unravel the mystery of the EU’s biggest corruption scandal in years is clearly a small price to pay. 

The alternative is that the palm line keeps rising. 

Source link

You may also like