Italian prosecutor who led Tangentopoli kickback probes, dead at 89

Milan magistrate Borrelli who led 1990s Italian “Clean Hands” political kickback probes, dies

Francesco Borelli (centre) with Antonio di Pietro (left)
Francesco Borelli (centre) with Antonio di Pietro (left)

Francesco Saverio Borrelli, who as Milan chief prosecutor led the 1990s corruption probes which toppled Italy’s long-ruling political class, has died. He was 89.

Milan Chief Prosecutor Francesco Greco confirmed reports of Borrelli’s death in a Milan hospital Saturday. He said a wake would be held at the city’s courthouse.

Borrelli’s team of prosecutors in the 1990s unearthed systemic kickbacks dubbed “Bribesville” between political parties and business figures.

Scores of suspects were jailed in the “Clean Hands” probes, and hundreds more were investigated.

The nationwide judicial investigation into political corruption in Italy held in the 1990s, resulted in the demise of the so-called "First Republic" and the disappearance of many political parties. Some politicians and industry leaders committed suicide after their crimes were exposed.

Antonio Di Pietro was the main judicial figure in charge of the investigation. In some accounts, as many as 5,000 public figures fell under suspicion. At one point, more than half of the members of the Italian Parliament were under indictment, while more than 400 city and town councils were dissolved because of corruption charges. The estimated value of bribes paid annually in the 1980s by Italian and foreign companies bidding for large government contracts reached US$4 billion dollars.

The corrupt system uncovered by the investigation was referred to as Tangentopoli, deriving from tangente, which means 'kickback' and in this context refers to kickbacks given for public works contracts, and so translated as "Bribesville" or "Kickback City".

The investigations spelled the demise of decades of Christian Democrat post-war dominance of Italian politics. It also ended the political career of former Socialist Premier Bettino Craxi.

The Neapolitan Borrelli became a magistrate in 1955 and in 1983 was appointed as a criminal prosecutor in Milan.

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