Mani pulite
Former Prime Minister Bettino Craxi greeted by a salvo of coins as a sign of loathing by protesters in Rome on 30 April 1993
Started17 February 1992

Mani pulite (Italian: [ˈmaːni puˈliːte]; lit.'clean hands') was a nationwide judicial investigation into political corruption in Italy held in the early 1990s, resulting in the demise of the so-called "First Republic" and the disappearance of many Italian 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.[1]

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 (6.5 trillion lire).[2]

The corrupt system uncovered by the investigation was referred to as Tangentopoli (Italian pronunciation: [tandʒenˈtɔːpoli]).[3] The term derives from Italian tangente, which means 'kickback', and in this context refers to kickbacks given for public works contracts,[2] and Greek polis meaning 'city';[a] it is thus sometimes translated as "Bribesville" or "Kickback City".

Arrest of Mario Chiesa

Tangentopoli began on 17 February 1992 when Judge Antonio Di Pietro had Mario Chiesa, a member of the centre-left Italian Socialist Party (PSI), arrested for accepting a bribe from a Milan cleaning firm. The PSI distanced themselves from Chiesa, with party leader Bettino Craxi calling him mariuolo, or "villain", a "wild splinter" of an otherwise clean party.[4] Upset over this treatment by his former colleagues, Chiesa began to give information about corruption implicating them. This marked the beginning of the Mani pulite investigation; news of political corruption began spreading in the Italian press.

Extension of anti-corruption investigations

In the 1992 general election, the centre-right Christian Democracy (DC) held on to power when its coalition government kept a small majority, while leftist opposition parties gained support. However, the Italian Communist Party (PCI) split after the fall of the Soviet Union, depriving the opposition of leadership. Many votes went to the regionalist Lega Nord (LN), which was not inclined to form alliances with other parties at the time. The resulting parliament was therefore weak and difficult to bring to an agreement.[5]

During April 1992, many industrial figures and politicians from both the government and the opposition were arrested on charges of corruption. While the investigations started in Milan, they quickly spread to other areas as more politicians confessed. Fundamental to this increased exposure was the general attitude of the main politicians to drop support for subordinates who got caught; this made many of them feel betrayed, and they often implicated many other figures, who in turn would implicate even more. On 2 September 1992, PSI politician Sergio Moroni, charged with corruption, committed suicide, leaving behind a letter declaring that his crimes were not for his personal gain but for the party's benefit.[6]

Effect on national politics

In local elections in December 1992, held in eight municipalities, DC lost half of their votes. The following day, Craxi was officially accused of corruption; he eventually resigned as leader of the PSI. On 5 March 1993, the government of Giuliano Amato (PSI) and his justice minister Giovanni Conso (independent) tried to find a solution with a decree, which allowed criminal charges for several bribery-related crimes to be replaced by administrative charges instead; according to popular opinion at the time, that would have resulted in a de facto amnesty for most corruption charges. Amid public outrage and nationwide rallies, President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro (DC) refused to sign the decree, deeming it unconstitutional.[7] The following week, a US$250 million scandal involving Eni, the government-controlled energy company, was revealed. The stream of accusations, confessions and jailing continued.

On 25 March, the parliament changed municipal electoral law in favor of a majoritarian system. Later, on 18 April, the public overwhelmingly backed the abrogation of the existing proportional representation parliamentary system in a referendum (a mixed system was introduced that August), causing Amato to resign three days later.[8] Still shocked by the recent events, the parliament was unable to produce a new government. Carlo Azeglio Ciampi (independent), former governor of the Bank of Italy, was appointed head of the government; he appointed a technical government without political influences. Meanwhile, the parliament blocked the investigation into Craxi, causing several cabinet ministers – including Francesco Rutelli (FdV) and Vincenzo Visco (independent) – to resign in protest after three days at their posts.[7] In new local elections on 6 June, DC lost half of its votes once again; the PSI virtually disappeared. Instead, LN became the strongest political force in northern Italy. The left-wing opposition was approaching majority, but still lacked unity and leadership.

Eventually, all four parties in the 1992 government disappeared, at different times in different ways: DC, the PSI, the Italian Democratic Socialist Party, and the Italian Liberal Party. The Democratic Party of the Left, the Italian Republican Party and the Italian Social Movement were the only surviving national parties; the Republican Party is the only one that has maintained its name since.[9]

Cusani trial

Milan's Palace of Justice, where the investigation began and the Cusani trial took place between 1993 and 1997

On 20 July 1993, the former Eni president, Gabriele Cagliari, committed suicide in jail. His wife later gave back US$3 million of illegal funds. Meanwhile, Sergio Cusani faced trial and was accused of crimes connected to Enimont, a joint venture between Eni and another energy company, Montedison. The trial was broadcast on national television and was a sort of showcase of the old politics being brought to their responsibilities. While Cusani himself was not a major figure, the connection of his crimes to the Enimont affair called in all the nation's major politicians as witnesses.[10]

A high note was reached in the Cusani trial when former head of government Arnaldo Forlani (DC), answering a question, simply said, "I don't remember";[11] he happened to be very nervous and did not notice that perspiration was accumulating on his lips, and that image was by many considered symbolic of the people's disgust for the corrupt system. Craxi, instead, admitted that his party received $93 million of illegal funds, defending his actions by saying that "everyone was doing this".[12] Even the Lega Nord was implicated in the trial; secretary Umberto Bossi and former treasurer Alessandro Patelli were convicted for receiving 200 million lire of illegal funding (approx. $100,000 at the time).[13]

A bribe to the Italian Communist Party was alleged, but it was not established who had committed the offence. A number of Milanese members of the Democratic Party of the Left were charged with corruption during their time as members of the PCI, but they were acquitted. As prosecutor Antonio Di Pietro stated, "Penal responsibility is personal, I cannot bring here a person with the first name Party and last name Communist" ("La responsabilità penale è personale, non posso portare in giudizio una persona che si chiami Partito di nome e Comunista di cognome").[12]

The Enimont trial itself was carried out after the Cusani trial, with much less public interest.

Investigations on other fronts

In the meantime, the investigation expanded outside the political range: on 2 September 1993, the Milan judge Diego Curtò was arrested. On 21 April 1994, 80 financial regulators and 300 industry personalities were charged with corruption. A few days later, the secretary of Fiat admitted corruption with a letter to a newspaper. Media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi entered politics later that year and won the 1994 general election, in what many thought was a move to shield his many business concerns from possible scrutiny. This suspicion was reinforced on 11 February, when Berlusconi's brother, Paolo, admitted to corruption crimes.[12] On 29 July, Berlusconi's brother was again arrested and immediately released.[12]


The term lottizzazione, meaning the way a terrain is divided up in minor parts or lotti, came to indicate the procedure of awarding top positions in important state conglomerates such as IRI, Enel or Eni to political figures, or at least managers with a clear political orientation.[14] This usually trickled down to lower levels, creating power centres depending on political parties that controlled a significant part of the production system. The available seats were usually awarded so that government parties (and opposition parties like the Italian Communist Party) would get a share of power corresponding to their perceived influence in the government.


A 2020 study found that "local politicians withdraw support from incumbents in parties hit by Clean Hands – inducing early government dissolutions in such municipalities... local politicians from the implicated parties exhibit lower re-running rates and higher rates of party switching in the short term. In the medium term, we find that corruption and voter turnout are lower in competitive municipalities 'treated' with a mayor from the implicated parties during Clean Hands. Moreover, medium-term upward career mobility of local politicians from the implicated parties benefited from party switching."[15]

In modern culture

In 2005, artist Gianni Motti created an artwork in the form of a bar of soap, named Mani pulite, based on the scandal. This piece was claimed to have been created out of the fat from a liposuction of Silvio Berlusconi. It was sold at the 36th edition of Art Basel for 15,000 euros.[16]

A 2015 television series titled 1992 is based on the events of Mani pulite.[17]

See also


  1. ^ -(o)poli is now also used as a generic suffix for a scandal (e.g. Calciopoli, Scommessopoli), much like "-gate" in the English language (i.e. Zippergate, Russiagate).


  1. ^ "Mani Pulite 30 anni dopo. Il paladino Antonio Di Pietro" (in Italian). Retrieved 27 September 2023.
  2. ^ a b Stephen P. Koff (2002). Italy: From the 1st to the 2nd Republic. Routledge. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-203-00536-1.
  3. ^ Moliterno, Gino (2000). Encyclopedia of contemporary Italian culture. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-14584-8.
  4. ^ ""Chiesa è un mariuolo"" (in Italian). 15 February 2012. Archived from the original on 27 September 2015. Retrieved 19 May 2015.
  5. ^ Stefano Folli (7 April 1992). "Comincia l'era dell'ingovernabilità" (in Italian). Corriere della Sera. Archived from the original on 1 July 2012. Retrieved 17 March 2011.
  6. ^ "SERGIO MORONI: GIUSTIZIA NON È ANCORA FATTA". Socialist. 2 September 2009. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 16 January 2010.
  7. ^ a b Gianni Barbacetto; Peter Gomez; Marco Travaglio (2012). Mani pulite. La vera storia, 20 anni dopo. Chiarelettere.
  8. ^ Alberto Rapisarda (22 April 1993). ""Ci vuole un cambiamento di regime"" (in Italian). La Stampa. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  9. ^ "Partito repubblicano italiano" (in Italian). Retrieved 27 September 2023.
  10. ^ "Mani Pulite 30 anni dopo, Sergio Cusani: "Ero il colpevole e non ho cercato perdono. Ma il malaffare c'è ancora"" (in Italian). Retrieved 27 September 2023.
  11. ^ "Forlani, quella volta che fu interrogato da Di Pietro" (in Italian). Retrieved 27 September 2023.
  12. ^ a b c d "Tangentopoli 2" (in Italian). Retrieved 27 September 2023.
  13. ^ "Il tesoriere della Lega confessa la tangente Montedison. E Umberto Bossi risarcisce la Procura" (in Italian). Retrieved 27 September 2023.
  14. ^ "Lottizzazione" (in Italian). Retrieved 27 September 2023.
  15. ^ Daniele, Gianmarco; Galletta, Sergio; Geys, Benny (2020-04-01). "Abandon ship? Party brands and politicians' responses to a political scandal". Journal of Public Economics. 184: 104172. doi:10.1016/j.jpubeco.2020.104172. hdl:2445/121337. ISSN 0047-2727. S2CID 216264472.
  16. ^ " » spettacoli_e_cultura » Basilea, la "saponetta" di Berlusconi venduta per 15 mila euro".
  17. ^ Young, Deborah (9 February 2015). "'1992': Berlin Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 15 March 2016.

Further reading