Is a Spanish ‘tangentopoli’ against corruption in the cards?


It wouldn’t be accurate to say that corruption has burst into the Spanish society because it is part of it from the mists of time.

However, it is true that on this occasion it has reached an unbearable peak, to the point that certain judges and prosecutors without recognized political affiliation have begun to consider the need for their sector to undertake a reform like the one that took place in Italy more than one decade ago. That process was led by the Prosecutor Antonio Di Pietro, who discovered an extensive network of corruption involving all the main political parties and several companies, and it caused great commotion among the public. It was known as the tangentopoli (bribesville has been a common translation into English language).

That corruption scandal in Italy prompted a transitional government in 1993 led by Azeglio Ciampi, who drafted a new majority electoral law to replace the proportional one. In 1994 general elections meant the virtual disappearance of the traditional parties that previously had begun to disintegrate or had even already disappeared such as the Christian Democrats.

The process that began in Milan enabled Di Pietro and the Clean Hands (mani pulite) prosecutors association uncovered the largest corruption scandal of the Italian Republic in its 150 years of history. More than 4,000 businessmen and representatives of all political formations had to testify. Some committed suicide. The legal cyclone swept away a corrupt political class in 1992, while the country suffered from a serious economic crisis, and ended with the two hegemonic parties since the end of World War II: the Christian democracy (DC) and Craxi’s Socialist Party. Of course, it put an end to the First Republic.

The social and judicial seizure made possible Berlusconi’s rise. He was the main financial supporter of former Prime Minister Bettino Craxi, who was prosecuted and ended taking up exile in Tunisia. Since then, Italy is installed in a new Tangentopoli, although today money is moved among friends who primarily seek to get rich and share each other’s favors and protection. Today, entrepreneurs and politicians from all parties sit at the same table and preserve their business, as one of the prosecutors of the movement led by di Pietro said.

The so called Tangentopoli was devastating for the Italian economy. To prove it, analysts point out to the fact that in 1980 the Italian public debt was 60% of GDP, whereas in 1992 it was 118%:  both parties took public money for personal enrichment and illegal funding. They often got commissions in public biddings.

Today, things are still pretty much the same and newspapers show politics hasn’t changed after Prosecutor Di Pietro’s revolution. Berlusconi is the evidence of it. We could write an whole encyclopedia about his scandals and corrupt behavior.

Since 1999, the Italian Parliament had refused to approve the EU piece of legislation about punishing business leaders who take kickbacks. Nor have members reached an agreement to take forward an anti-corruption decree despite the efforts of former technocrat PM Mario Monti. He was determined to stop the brutal Italian corruption, although that is very difficult task taking into account that 22 members of parliament were convicted of corruption in the last legislature. At the end, he managed to bring forward a very watered down anti-corruption standard to impose on Berlusconi.

A few months ago Italian media talked of Monti’s bitter moment when the emir of Qatar said that he preferred not to invest in Italy due to the country’s level of corruption. In Transparency International rank, Italy is already in the 69th position, along with Ghana and Macedonia, more than 30 points below Spain, as a result of its huge, unprecedented scandals, even bigger than 1992’s.

During his term, Monti (who is running for PM in the next election) had to confront situations of national shame, since all regions, and all parties had to deal with corruption cases. He even tried to return to centralize powers and put an end to federalism. The situation had reached inconceivable levels and for the first time in history the City Council of a regional capital (Reggio, in Calabria) was dismantled because of its connections with the Mafia.

12% of Italians admit that at some point an official has asked them for money. Complaints about tax evaders have increased by 228 per cent in 2012.  Corruption is believed to cost 60 billion euro to Italy every year. It enables public contracts inflated by 40% and reduces the investments by more than 16%.

The analogy between Italy and Spain is yet to be determined, although in many spheres of Spanish society it is considered that when it comes to corruption, both countries are very much alike.

About the Author

The Corner
The Corner has a team of on-the-ground reporters in capital cities ranging from New York to Beijing. Their stories are edited by the teams at the Spanish magazine Consejeros (for members of companies’ boards of directors) and at the stock market news site Consenso Del Mercado (market consensus). They have worked in economics and communication for over 25 years.

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