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An Arresting Vote

Justice

Alfonso Papa is an Italian politician, and magistrate (or was, he was suspended the other day), who investigators would dearly like to arrest.  This honourable gentlemen is facing charges in connection with Italy’s ongoing P4 corruption network scandal.  However arresting politicians in the land in which all are supposed to be equal in the eyes of the law is by no means simple.

First of all, the cases of politicians facing arrest go before a parliamentary committee which votes on whether or not the politicians concerned should be arrested.  If this committee decides no arrest is justifiable, then the case stops there.  But, and as has happened in the Papa case, if the committee decides that an arrest is justified, the next step is a full scale parliamentary vote.  Or kangaroo court, one may think.

Update 20 July, 2011: 

I’ve been informed by my Italian other half that politicians in Italy cannot be arrested without parliamentary permission in order to protect them from those who would use Italy’s laws for political ends.

As a matter of interest, in the UK, members of parliament cannot be charged with the offences of libel and slander when they are speaking in parliament.  However, immunity from criminal prosecution is not enjoyed by the United Kingdom’s members of parliament because a fundamental tenet of English law is that all are equal in the eyes of the law.  Now, I could be wrong, and I know the UK is not Italy and vice versa, but that fundamental tenet of English law sounds remarkably similar to Article 3 of Italy’s constitution:

(1) All citizens have equal social status and are equal before the law, without regard to their sex, race, language, religion, political opinions, and personal or social conditions.

The vote is, I have been informed, a type of check mechanism designed to protect democracy in Italy.  I was also told that all countries have similar provisions to those of Italy with regard to arresting misbehaving politicians…

I did try to argue that permitting Italy’s parliament to decide whether or not its members can or cannot be arrested appears to go against the spirit of Article 3 (1) of Italy’s constitution, but was told I did not understand.  I’m not certain just what I don’t understand and would be open to any clarification anyone may like to offer.  I openly admit to not understanding everything, I am, after all, only human.

There is a genuine fear of laws being used to gain the upper hand power-wise in Italy.  The UK does not appear to share the same fear – though perhaps it should. (?)

End of update, but not of confusion.

Such a vote will occur tomorrow, but the outcome is far from certain.

On one hand, Italy’s prime minister Silvio Berlusconi thinks that voting in favour of an arrest will set a dangerous precedent, even if it is unclear just why arresting politicians accused of corruption is “dangerous”.  This would appear to imply that Berlusconi condones corruption.

Then there is Berlusconi’s erstwhile coalition partner and leader of the Northern League party Umberto Bossi who is saying one day: “arrest Papa”, and the next, “do not arrest him”, rinse and repeat.  The message Bossi is sending out is confusing to say the least, but Bossi, alas, does not appear to be in the best of health.

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It just so happens that the political party to which Papa belongs – Berlusconi’s PDL – holds the majority in Italy’s parliament, so one can be just about certain Papa’s colleagues won’t vote for his arrest.

It seems that all are equal in the eyes of the law in Italy, but some are more equal than others.

UPDATE: 20 July, 2011

After some uncertainly over whether the vote would be a secret or an open ballot.  In the event, after a secret ballot, Italy’s lower house parliamentarians voted for (319 votes yes and 293 against) the arrest of Alfonso Papa who stated that he was innocent of all charges and that this would be shown should the case end up in court.

In Italy’s upper house – the Senate – senators voted against the arrest of (151 no, 127 yes) Senator Tedesco who has been caught up in investigations into a €45 million fraud case.

Silvio Berlusconi commented: “It’s shameful, this ‘escalation of handcuffs’ is to be stopped”.  Berlusconi also thinks “they” are are mad and out to get him.  “They” refers to what Berlusconi believes to be politically motivated magistrates, prosecutors and judges.

End of Update.

Reform Time!

The Berlusconi government is busily proposing a list of reforms to the way in which Italy is governed including huge cuts in the number of honourable bottoms who will occupy seats in Italy’s upper and lower houses of parliament.  Well, here’s another little reform which the Italian government might like to consider:  How about giving everybody the benefit of the vote?

Just imagine Mario mafioso is caught by the cops, smoking gun in hand after terminating some business relationship or other.  The police take his name and address, and send him off home to wait until the vote has been held.  Then, in six months or so, after the vote has occured and, of course, if Italy’s parliament has decided that an arrest is justified, the police will pop down to Mario’s flat in downtown Palermo and arrest him.  Only Mario skipped the country three months before and is nowhere to be found.  Wouldn’t that be fun?

Or how about the scooter-riding mugger who rips the sunglasses from your face while you are visiting Naples?  The cops catch the mugger, but cannot arrest him until his case has been put to the vote in Italy’s parliament.

Italy, at times, is weird beyond belief!  Still, it is a lovely place to visit for a holiday – for the moment.

Oh, and expect a few more arresting votes shortly.  Investigators would like to speak to a number of Italy’s politicians in order to understand just what they’ve been up to.

They are also curious to know why Italy’s finance minister had the use of a flat the rent on which was being paid by a politician who was allegedly “selling” high level positions in parliament and in state run businesses.  The price of a position?  Around €100,000, apparently.  In lieu of hard cash, Ferraris, Rolex watches and snazzy motor cruisers were deemed acceptable rewards for “favours”.

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