[JURIST] The Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) [official website] expressed "great concern" Tuesday over Italy's decision to dissolve the office of High Commissioner against corruption [official website], effective August 25, 2008. In a letter [PDF] to High Commissioner Vincenzo Grimaldi, the president of GRECO, a coalition of European states dedicated to monitoring compliance with the Council of Europe's anti-corruption standards, wrote:
I really fear that Italy is about to move back to a situation in which there is no real political will to fight corruption…the elimination of your Office is not only a loss for your country but also for GRECO. It would appear that your government does not understand that Italy, as a founding member of the Council of Europe, is watched closely by those member States which have more recently joined the organisation. This bad example may well impact on the position of anti-corruption bodies in other GRECO member States, some of which have come under pressure lately.
The office of High Commissioner, established on October 24, 2004, was charged with identifying and investigating possible cases of corruption within the Italian government. The move to eliminate the office is part of a national reorganization plan meant to consolidate a number of small public administrative offices. Last week Transparency International [official website], a global anti-corruption advocacy group, expressed similar concerns [press release] over the decision.
GRECO's statements came on the same day as an estimated 10,000 people assembled in Rome [International Herald Tribune report] to protest proposed legislation that would protect high-ranking government officials from prosecution during their terms in office. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] faces corruption charges [JURIST report] dating back to 1997, causing critics to speculate that Burlusconi's support for the measures is personally motivated, since his trial is likely to be affected. The proposed bill, along with a resolution [PDF, in Italian; legislative materials, in Italian] passed by the Italian Senate that would suspend older trials for nonviolent crimes [JURIST report], could suspend the proceedings indefinitely.