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Italy’s most vulgar politician undone (or so it appears) by scandal PDF Print E-mail
Apr 14, 2012 at 12:21 AM
Umberto Bossi in his favorite attire
Umberto Bossi, the (to my mind, despicable) founder and leader of the often xenophobic and autonomist Northern League, resigned from his post as party leader last weekend following the publication of wiretaps implicating members of his immediate family in the misuse of public funds. The recent allegations are part of an ongoing investigation into the activities of the Northern League's former treasurer, Francesco Belsito, who is believed to have used party funds (most of which come from electoral subsidies) to carry out laundering activities for the Calabrian Mafia, the ‘Ndrangheta.

Bossi, a former cabinet minister, gained influence back in the late 1980's in part because of his anti-corruption stance ("Roma ladrona", Rome, a nest of thieves, was one of his favorite slogans). Subsequently, his federalist, anti-immigration platform won him enough votes to allow him to become the principal ally - for almost 18 years - of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

As is well known, Berlusconi resigned late last fall to make way for a "technicians" government capable of dealing with the current economic and financial crisis. He had gradually been weakened by the cumulative affect of scandals and tax evasion, bribery and corruption charges. But Bossi's disgrace is due to even more petty allegations. Party money reportedly was used to renovate the family villa, to buy an unearned university degree for his son Renzo, ridiculously nicknamed "the trout", to provide the latter with spending money and cars, and to help finance a private kindergarten run by Umberto Bossi's wife, Manuela.

Yesterday, the ruling council of the Northern League party expelled both Belsito and a close Bossi ally, union organizer Rosy Mauro, another extremely vulgar character who somehow has ended up as deputy speaker of the Italian Senate. She, too, is alleged to have used party funds to pay for doctors' bills and also, for university degrees for both herself and her singer boyfriend whose most popular song is Kooly Noody which when pronounced sounds the same as the words in Italian for "bare asses". Very refined.

The scandal, which appears likely to sharply weaken the Northen League at this May's local elections, has set off a renewed debate (nothing in Italian politics is ever really new) about whether or not political parties should receive public funding and whether, since they do, whether there should be more control of how that money is spent.

But aside from the enormous embarrassment of the League's other leaders (the next party secretary is expected to be the far more respectable former interior minister, Roberto Maroni), the latest developments make it crystal clear (although we all knew this) that 20 years after the massive Tangentopoli scandal that saw hundreds jailed for corruption, caused the suicides of several major business leaders and led to the self-exile of former Sociaist prime miniter Bettino Craxi, absolutely nothing has changed. Corruption is so widespread here that most people simply take it for granted.

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