The man at the heart of Milan's meltdown
The key player in Lombardy’s corruption scandal is its former president Roberto Formigoni, forced to dissolve his government this week, who has ties to Italian lay Catholic group Comunione e Liberazione
‘DID YOU see how that piss pot Zambetti paid up? We had him terrified. He even started crying, right there in front of me and Pino.”
This an extract from a tapped telephone conversation between Eugenio Costantino and Vincenzo Evolo, two alleged Mafiosi. The “Zambetti” in question is the Lombardy regional councillor Domenico Zambetti, who was arrested last week on charges of Mafia collusion. Milan investigators believe Zambetti not only paid €200,000 to the ’Ndrangheta, oe Calabrian Mafia, in return for a “packet” of 4,000 votes but that for more than 20 years he has been the ’Ndrangheta’s man at the heart of Milanese politics.
Zambetti’s arrest did not so much set alarm bells ringing about Milanese politics – they have been sounding loud and clear for the past two years – as mark a Rubicon crossing. Zambetti became the 14th member in the 85-strong regional parliament to be arrested or investigated in recent times, many of them on Mafia-related charges. It was simply too much for Italy’s hard-working business capital, which has always seen itself as a business environment that was, if not removed from the daily corruption of Italian life, at least “Mafia-free”.
It was one of Lombardy’s most distinguished sons, the novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco, who summed up the city and the region’s sense of dismay, pointing the finger at another of the region’s famous sons, the former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi: “And yet the idea of Milan as a source of innovation had persuaded many respectable people that even Berlusconi’s entry into politics was an attempt to introduce the healthy world of business into a political arena that was still hurting from the Tangentopoli [“bribesville”] scandal.
“That illusion did not last long but it was a tribute to the myth whereby Milan represented a healthy bulwark against the corrupt capital, Rome, which was infecting the entire nation. Very quickly even the most naive realised that a political force based on a conflict of interests and therefore based on the defence of private interests could only instigate further corruption. At the same time, the cynics soon realised that a new ‘gravy train’ Italy was opening up in front of them.”
Two years ago, when the Mafia expert Roberto Saviano suggested on state television that the ’Ndrangheta was entrenched and doing daily dirty business in Lombardy, he was bombarded with criticism. In particular, Saviano, the author of the bestseller Gomorrah, argued that the Federalist Northern League had become the major interlocutor for the ’Ndrangheta in Milan and Lombardy.
That claim outraged senior league figures, such as the then interior minister Roberto Maroni, who demanded (and obtained) a right of reply to Saviano on the same programme two weeks later. How could Saviano suggest Italy’s richest and most dynamic region, which alone counts for about 20 per cent of Italian GDP, was Mafia-infested? Answer: he could, he did, and he was right.