30 April 1993: an angry crowd throws coins and bank-notes at Bettino Craxi

Published: April 24, 2017 at 2:44pm

These news videos show Italian Socialist Party leader and former prime minister Bettino Craxi emerging from the Hotel Raphael off Piazza Navona in Rome, where he lived, on 30 April 1993.

It is a famous scene: an angry crowd, held back by the police, waves 1,000-lira notes and chants, “Bettino, do you want these too?” And when they see him, they throw loose change and lira-notes at him.

This is the background to that scene. Craxi was caught in the Mani Pulite (clean hands) investigations, carried out by judges in Milan, into the bribery of politicians and the financing of political parties by industrialists.

He was convicted for corruption and illicit financing of the Socialist Party, which he led, and was sentenced to 27 years in prison in 1994. To escape incarceration, he fled to Tunisia, where he had a villa in Hammamet, and was given protection from extradition by the Tunisian dictator, Ben Ali, who was a friend of his. He remained a fugitive from justice and, unable to return, never saw his home country again. He died six years later, aged 65, and was buried in Hammamet.

The scandal had begun in February 1992, when Socialist MP Mario Chiesa was arrested by police while taking a seven-million lira bribe from a cleaning services company. Chiesa sought his party leader’s protection, but Craxi accused him of tainting the reputation of the “most honest party in Italy”.

Angry at having been singled out, Chiesa retaliated by going to prosecutors and telling them everything he knew about the financing of the Socialist Party and the bribes taken by his fellow politicians. The information he gave them brought a great number of Socialist politicians and industrialists in Milan under investigation.

Craxi received his first prosecution notice in December 1992. More followed in January and February 1993, but he sought shelter behind the then immunity from prosecution of Italian MPs. Immunity could only be lifted by a parliamentary vote, and his fellow parliamentarians, seeking their own self-interest, voted against lifting it after Craxi gave an emotional speech asking them not to.

The angry and contemptuous scenes in the videos above took place a day later. The crowd was reacting to Craxi’s use of parliamentary immunity to protect himself from prosecution for corruption.

By the end of the year, the situation could not be tolerated any further because of public unrest, and parliament authorised the lifting of Craxi’s immunity (he was not Prime Minister at the time). The case was heard by Judge Antonio Di Pietro, and centred mainly round the notorious Enimont super-bribe which the Socialist Party had shared with the Christian Democrats.

Craxi’s defence was that bribes are “the price of politics”. He went on to become the symbol of political corruption.