Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti [official website, in Italian] on Tuesday approved a new law that imposes harsher sanctions on officials engaged in corruption in both the public and private sectors. Public officials convicted of abuse of office, bribery and exploiting government influence in return for favors or payments will receive increased prison sentences under the new law [Corriere della Sera report, in Italian]. The law also imposes higher sanctions [Reuters report] for corruption in the private sector. Convicted officials are prohibited from running for public office. The law also requires that local administrations create plans for curbing corruption and demands transparency with respect to local finances, requiring these offices to post budgets and public works project costs online. Finally, the anti-corruption law protects the identities of whistle blowers.
The new anti-corruption law is part of Italy's effort to renew its reputation after corruption ran rampant during the rule of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Earlier this week Berlusconi was found guilty of tax fraud [JURIST report] and sentenced to four years in prison on charges that his media empire Mediaset [corporate website, in Italian] purchased television rights for US movies through offshore companies and falsely declared the costs on its taxes. Berlusconi, who stepped down as prime minister last November, has been a defendant in nearly 50 cases but has never served a single prison sentence due to either successfully appealing or having the statute of limitations on the charge expire. In addition to the tax fraud charges, he is also facing charges of publicly releasing private wiretaps, embezzlement and paying for sex with an underage prostitute [JURIST reports] and abusing his power by having the police release her. In January 2011 the Italian Constitutional Court held hearings and subsequently struck down [JURIST reports] portions of an immunity law backed by Berlusconi that would have granted the premier and other public officials temporary amnesty from any charges while holding office. The Italian audit court, Corte del Conti [official website, in Italian], announced in February 2010 that the number of corruption cases in Italy had risen by 229 percent [JURIST report] over the previous year.