mercoledì, dicembre 14, 2005

Italy is Embarrassed Again

Events are finally starting to catch up with the current head of the Bank of Italy, Antonio Fazio.

You may recall that I wrote about his antics a couple of months ago, when the whole sorry saga hit the world press. He was accused of misusing his position as the Governor of the Bank of Italy in order to support his friend and father of his daughter’s fiancé, Gianpiero Fiorani.

The latest events to unfold almost read out of the pages of a cheap thriller. Fiorani has been arrested on suspicion of embezzlement, market manipulation and association with known criminals. He has been joined by former chief finance officer, Gianfranco Boni and Silvano Spinelli, a financial consultant and former BPI executive. Prosecutors are investigating how the Banca Popolare Italiana, where the three arrested gentlemen worked, built up such a large shareholding in the Banca Antonveneta at the height of the battle for ownership being fought with Dutch bank, ANB Amro.

Fazio himself is not being investigated alongside his daughter’s boyfriend’s father – but he IS under investigation now by the EU who commenced legal action against the Italy on Tuesday of this week (13th December).

Fazio is still hanging on to his comfortable armchair though – not a man who considers that his actions are presently embarrassing an entire country – obviously. The actions of Fazio and his friends have now resulted in the entire Italian banking system coming under the eagle-eyed gaze of the European Commission, who have now formally given notice that they require the Italian government to take action and resolve what is seen to be a secretive and unfair financial institution that is acting against the financial interests of Europe as a whole. Of course, to say that it is also acting against the interests of Italy itself is an understatement. With such underhanded and deceitful activities, foreign investment into Italy is suffering – which will contribute even more bad news to the ailing economy that has gone much further in the last 5 years toward lining certain people’s purses than to build a strong economy in Italy itself.

Of course, the Bank of Italy hasn't actually broken any Italian laws, according to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's lawyer and spokesman, Luigi Grillo (no relation to Bepe). He said that: "One thing needs to be clear: the Bank of Italy abided by Italian law and nobody has contested this", going on to add: "There's an (EU) commissioner who says (the Bank of Italy) didn't comply with E.U. procedures... We'll see; it's not certain that he's right", noting the E.U.'s infringement procedure was against Italy and not its central bank.

We can be sure that Silvio believes he has distanced himself from this charade. Now he can rub his hands in glee at the prospect of blaming the EU for Italy's financial problems without interferance from any annoying bank. That should then justifying his pulling Italy out of the EMU and the Euro - thereby allowing him to devalue the newly returned Lira without anyone noticing. Ahem. I'll go now, shall I?

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martedì, dicembre 13, 2005

What's in a Name?

Gianfranco Fini listens to Edmondo Cirielli
With the new “Ex-Cirielli” law now passed through the Senate, becoming one of the ever-increasing list of Italian laws, there are a couple of surprising dissident voices. As I wrote back in October, the law, first drafted by Edmondo Cirielli also known as the "Save Previti" law and the "Cerami Bill", was seen as a means to streamline Italy’s megalithic legal system. It also seemed custom-made to give Previti a chance to escape his prison sentence. The outcry over the effect that the Bill would have had on the rest of Italy’s convicted felons ensured that changes were made to reduce any possible advantage to Previti and his other inmates in prisons throughout Italy though. The resulting Bill still contains some highly contentious changes to Constitutional law however.

In the English-speaking world, the law seems to have escaped attention so far. That is to say, it has escaped the scrutiny of the mainstream press. It has caused quite a stir in the music world, however, as it is seen to be a huge problem for the music, video and computer software industry watchdogs in their fight against copyright piracy in Italy, long known to be a centre of illegal copying and distribution.

The IFPI claims that as many as 75% of outstanding criminal antipiracy trials will be stopped before they have the chance to be taken to court. IFPI Chairman and CEO John Kennedy said: "The Ex-Cirielli law deals a huge blow to the Italian music industry and to all IP industries in the country. This law totally undermines our ability to fight piracy in a nation with one of the highest rates of piracy in the developed world… This bill will erode investment in music, encourage organised crime, fuel corruption and cost the Italian government tens of millions of euros in lost revenue. It will bring Italy out of line with other European nations and put it firmly on the map as a pirate music market."

Pretty strong stuff. Enzo Mazza, Chairman of the Federation of the Italian Music Industry (FIMI) said: "This is an important setback in Italy’s fight to tackle its longstanding piracy problems. It now seems ironic that we were the first country in Europe to introduce a law imposing fines for the purchase of counterfeit products.”

Of course, there is another side to this multi-faceted coin. In the Court of Assizes in Genoa, where there is currently being heard the “Diaz/Bolzaneto Trial”, there is the feeling that the trial will be inevitably blocked by the new law. So much so, in fact, that everyone there was getting the feeling that proceedings were being deliberately slowed down so that the law could be passed and brought into play.

As if that were not enough, Minister of Justice Roberto Castelli said that: “There will be several thousand more repeat offenders.” Going on to say, “ It is not possible to make a reliable estimate but it is reasonable to suppose that the Ex-Cirielli law will lead in the medium term to thousands more prisoners, which we cannot handle without new resources. I have been asking for new resources for months”, concluded Mr Castelli. “If I do not obtain any results, I take no responsibility for what may happen”.

Confused? Well, the new law covers several main areas of interest. Firstly, it reduces the time for which a crime can be prosecuted from 7½ years to 6. Secondly, it allows for the accused to request his trial be moved to another region if he (I haven’t mentioned Berlusconi yet, have I?) believes that he will not get a fair trial in the region that has prosecuted him. The original intention to enable all of the trials curently before the courts to be included - hence the "Save Previti" tag - has been reduced to only including crimes of violence and personal attack, bringing about the situation that Minister Castelli was complaining of.

The bill has not had an easy passage through parliament. Some 3 years ago, Hillary Clark wrote for the Sunday Herald that: "Berlusconi's 'piano players' get the bird in multiple-voting and corruption scandal". This was an earlier scandal that exposed some of Berlusconi's senators casting votes on behalf of other senators not actually present - very much against the rules.

So, we wait and see now what the final outcome of the Cerami / Ex-Cirielli / Save-Previti law will be. Will Previti get off? Will the case in Genoa against the police that attacked journalists in the Diaz School be abandoned?

My breath is suitably bated... (col fiato sospeso).

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