Archive for the ‘Italy to avoid’ Category

World’s sickest joke ends

March 28, 2015

Raffaele Sollecito and Amanda Knox have been acquitted of the murder of Meredith Kercher, a crime there was never any serious evidence they were involved in. The process took more than eight years (quite quick for Italy); they were convicted, acquitted, convicted, acquitted, and spent four years in prison.

Meanwhile Rudy Guede, who did kill Meredith Kercher, and in the most brutal, painful manner after first sexually assaulting her, is already enjoying day release from prison.

There will be no enquiry into the handling of the case by prosecuting magistrate Giuliano Mignini, whose bizarre theories and lack of professionalism had convinced two journalists to write a book about his ‘investigative’ techniques long before the Kercher case. Nor will there be an enquiry into the conduct of elements of the Perugia police that operated with total unprofessionalism and outside the law during the investigation.

Some people on the Knox side are so relieved the torment is over that they are saying their faith in Italian justice is restored. This is a terrible thing to say. The only useful purpose the case has served is to advertise to the world just how hopeless the Italian justice system is and perhaps give a tiny push towards it one day being reformed.

I have cited European Union reports on the Italian justice system in previous blogs under the ‘Italy to Avoid’ category. One other pointer I noticed recently is that the World Bank, as of 2015, ranks Italy 147th in the world for enforcement of contracts.

 

More:

Amanda Knox’s account of her trial and incarceration is well worth a read. It isn’t perfect, but it is a serious book, much more serious than many others that have been written about her and Sollecito. (By a curious coincidence, the Capanne prison where she and Sollecito were held is the same one where the carpenter on our house in Italy died; a hippy, arrested for marijuana possession, there is a good prima facie case that he was beaten to death. Needless to say, his friends who tried to pursue legal recourse will not be getting any.)

 

Later:

The first media to have put the boot into the Italian legal system that I have seen is The Economist. Bless.

No, no, no

July 1, 2014

The Guardian, which has reported Sollecito-Knox pretty well, falls asleep on the job. Sorry to those who don’t give a damn about Italy, but this complaint to the readers’ editor explains:

I ask you to take a  look at the 1 July Guardian story (no byline) about the appeal of Raffaele Sollecito. It asserts (par 4) that Knox and Sollecito have previously always had a ‘rigidly joint defence’. This is 180 degrees from the truth. Part of the reason for the original conviction was that they did not have a rigidly joint defence. If Sollecito’s pending appeal implies the possibility of Knox’s guilt as part of his defence, it will in fact be consistent with the line his lawyers have pursued in the past.

If you link to my blog entries on this subject and scroll down to September 19 2012, you will find a germane entry which references, among other things, much more accurate reporting by your own paper.
I am not sure if you have just picked up an agency report here, but a court case carrying a life sentence deserves better treatment.

Ping pong

January 31, 2014

In Florence, they have re-convicted Sollecito and Knox.

My views on this case have not changed so I won’t add to what is already filed under the Italy to Avoid tab.

The Guardian has a video interview with Knox prior to the verdict that is embedded into its news coverage.

I would also recommend Knox’s book about her experiences which I think is very good and has sold very well. It isn’t available in the UK because of spineless publishers (they would say the UK’s litigant-friendly libel law), but you should be able to order from Amazon in the US or somesuch.

 

Weekend reading: abuse of state power special

August 25, 2013

It has been a bumper week for abuse of state power. Here are some of the highlights:

Bradley Manning goes down for 35 years. On the watch of the ‘liberal’ president, Barack Obama. The FT (sub needed) argues that Manning got off lightly and may get parole in 10 years. The Guardian takes a different view on the proportionality of Manning’s sentence, a position closer to mine.

While the reaction pieces are being penned, Manning expresses a desire for hormone treatment to assist in a desired gender reassignment. Federal prisons offer this, military ones do not. Manning has asked that she [sic] be referred to henceforth as Chelsea, with the former name Bradley reserved only for letters to the the confinement facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. There are worse ways to spend half an hour than writing him/her a letter of support, so why not do so?.

From, for me, the damaged but well-meaning Manning to the thoughtful, lucid and brave Edward Snowden. In the UK, Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor, reveals threats from the British government, securocrats, and indirectly from David Cameron himself, to pre-emptively shut down further reporting of the Snowden cache using British legal powers of pre-emption.

It is depressing to read how the poodles in the UK government told their bosses in Washington that Guardian journalist Glen Greenwald’s partner David  Miranda would be detained at Heathrow, how Met police say they checked they were using anti-terrorism legislation correctly and how the police reckon they were procedurally perfect. Having taken the call from the lickspittle Brits, Washington then moved to distance itself from the Miranda detention and the seizure of his possessions, saying it wouldn’t happen in the US. As the Economist points out (sub needed), the anti-terrorism legislation under which Miranda was detained was established for the police to ascertain if a person “is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism”. To use such legislation against journalists is grotesque.

Over to China, where 70 policemen take the unusual risk of appending their thumbprints to a denunciation of the acting president of the Shanghai High Court who, they say, has been engaged in massive long-term corruption including stealing several tons of alcohol from the police booze budget each year. Court president Cui Yadong was already feeling the heat after senior Shanghai judges were recently captured on video cavorting with prostitutes. The video of the judges has had over 4 million hits.

Separately in China, the New York Times discusses ‘Document number 9’ and the alleged ‘seven subversive currents’ at large in the Chinese nation. Per my recent blog about Xi Jinping, we are starting to get more visibility on the new Chinese president and what we are seeing is not pretty. Xi’s evolving proto-Maoist approach to politics provides the background to the trial on corruption and abuse of power charges of fellow princeling Bo Xilai, which started this week. Bo was the person who invented the ‘New Red’ school of modified Maoist populism when he was running Chongqing. As Xi and pals move to crush him, the irony and hypocrisy are not lost on John Garnaut in Foreign Policy.

Here in Italy, meanwhile, we are enjoying a peculiarly Italian twist on the abuse of state power. Silvio Berlusconi, having been definitively condemned for a felony for the first time, has opted for an attack on state power that recalls, for me, Italy’s fascist past (much more so than the claims, which I previously dismissed on this site, that Beppe Grillo is proto fascist). Over the Ferragosto holiday Sil promised a programme of direct action on Italy’s beaches, with his supporters leafleting holiday makers who would otherwise be trying to catch a rest. The focus of Sil’s campaign is not so much a proposal for structural reform of the judiciary, or indeed enforcement of existing norms (which would be half the job done already), but instead a direct attack on magistrates and judges as a species. The strategy has more than a whiff of hoped-for intimidation.

Here is a lead story (in Italian) from Berlusconi’s Il Giornale during the holiday. Although the article was on the front page, it has no news content, and comprises a simple frontal assault on the judiciary, likening its perceived efforts to ‘attain political power’ over the nation to Mao Zedong’s Long March. The connection with Maoism/communism is established in the first sentence. Italy, we learn, does not have a mundanely inefficient legal system to be improved by systemic change, but an extremist, personal, visceral political conspiracy against the Italian people (to wit, Sil and his businesses).

Here are some current icons from Berlusconi’s PDL/FI site:

banner-forzasilvio pdl-logo 20ANNI-DI-CACCIA-UOMO 995980_621688441198598_1936708951_n 998453_620420304658745_378895156_n 998913_622166501150792_278588033_n 1097945_620420421325400_707118344_n slide-1-638

The manner in which Berlusconi’s personal interests, those of the Mediaset group he controls, and national politics are conflated is bewildering for anyone from the First World. But of course this is not the First World. Next month Sil will relaunch Forza Italia (FT, sub needed), his original political movement named for a football chant (in the country that now boasts the worst record of football violence and racism in western Europe). ‘Ancora in campo’ / Back on the Field is the new tag line.

To me the strategy looks more than a little fascistic, involving as it does an attack on the institutions of the state and promises of more direct action. However, as the holidays wind down I suspect that we won’t see a proto-fascist movement take hold in Italy. Instead we will see business as usual.  The main evidence of Sil’s promised campaign of direct action so far (the plan on the beaches described here in the FT, sub needed) is a few Forza Italia militants in Rome (here telling journalists they have not been paid to march, that they are ‘spontaneous volunteers’ and that they have ‘just come for Him [Sil]’) and a pisspoor little plane dragging a bit of superannuated toilet paper above a few holidaymakers. ‘Forza Italia, Forza Sil’, I think it says.

I don’t want to do you down Sil, but I’m not sure you’ve really got the fascist cojones for this thing….

Forza Italia sul ferragosto 2013

Meanwhile, my own experience with abuse of state power occurs when I stop at Sasso, the bar on the river on the way to Citta di Castelllo. Despite the fact that there were few people around when I stopped, and lots of safe parking available, a carabinieri police car was parked across the zebra crossing that leads to the children’s playground, with two wheels outside the white parking line and hence well into the road. Thinking this a bit slack, even by Italian police standards, I took a photo on my phone. Walking into the bar, I found two carabinieri eating cream buns. I bought a small bottle of cold water and went outside to drink it in the sun.

While I was doing this, it seems one of regular clients at the bar told the carabinieri I had taken a photo. One of the carabinieri came over and demanded ‘a document’. Of course, I said, handing him my EU photo driving licence. He took it away and wrote down all the details, resting on the boot of his car. Then he came back and said: ‘I have taken down all your details because you took a photo.’ I replied: ‘Yes I did take a photo because of the way you parked.’ The policeman responded: ‘You have no idea what business we are engaged on here.’ I resisted the urge to reply: ‘It looked like you were engaged in eating cream buns.’ Both policemen were standing over me, not completely in my face, but close enough to make me feel uncomfortable.

The officers then made a series of threats:

1. ‘We have your details. If that photo is published on the Internet [he only seemed concerned about the Internet] we know who you are.’ I replied that I have no problem with them knowing who I am.

2. [from the second carabinieri, thinner and younger]: ‘That is a MILITARY vehicle. Do you understand?’ I replied that I am fully aware that the carabinieri is a para-military force.

3. The first officer mentioned seizing my phone (the verb he employed was ‘sequestrare’). I remained impassive, just looked him in the eye. There were a few people around the bar (maybe 8), plus the female boss, whom I have known for years. He didn’t take the phone in the end, just saying: ‘Get rid of that photo or I will seize your phone.’ I said nothing.

2013-08-16 11.56.41

At this point the policemen appeared to run out of threats. They went back to their car, got in it, turned around, and followed me to Citta di Castello, before turning off in the direction of the police station. Should I complain to the justice system or should I launch a proto-fascist programme of direct action? Thankfully this dilemma no longer presents itself. I now live in Cambridge. I think I’ll just go home.

More:

If you would like to harass people on street corners until Silvio is let off his felony, you should be able to sign up at the site below. (Latest talk is of a general amnesty for convicted felons facing up to as much as four years’ jail time. This would be a triple triumph — saving money spent on prisons, reducing Italy’s huge trial waiting lists, and getting Sil off his fraud sentence (plus other sentences that may soon follow). The only downside would be to put a few thousand crooks, some of them violent, back on the streets. What is not to like?)

ForzaSilvio.it

Holiday reading and viewing: booze, race, nationalism

July 23, 2013

English beach

 

Since I am sort of on holiday this week, I have decided that everybody else should be too. So here is weekend reading re-dressed as holiday reading.

 

1. First up, to get us started, a great discussion of the role of alcohol, and of alcohol addiction, in writing.

Next, the serious stuff.

Here are three articles on questions of race and nationalism.

2a. Orville Schell and John Delury offer a thoughtful piece about China’s need to move on from the narrative of national humiliation that the country’s schools and politicians have fed the population ever since 1949 (and indeed longer in the case of early converts to the communist party’s cause).

2b. In the United States, Barak Obama can no longer avoid speaking out about the Trayvon Martin case.

2c. Philip Stephens in the FT (sub needed) reflects on the mindless racism of Italian politics, but ends with his ideas that just maybe Gianni Letta represents change. Would that it were so!

3. Third, a near miss. Gideon Rachman in the FT (sub needed) has a thoughtful piece on Putin’s Russia but fails to nuance it with what Putin’s government is doing to put Russia back on an economic development path — in essence, reining in the oligarchs and bringing cash flows from national mineral assets back under public control. Putin may be a revolting man, and yet may also be a revolting man whose time has come.

4. Finally, a heartening curiosity. Teach First seems to be working. It is now Britain’s single biggest recruiter. So it turns out that smart people often do care, and don’t reflexively sell their souls to a law firm or investment bank.

 

Weekend reading & viewing: on the theme of money (and other stuff)

May 11, 2013

Gold

George Monbiot has a go at tackling the ‘what motivates the very rich?’ issue. His thoughts are not a million miles from mine. What I have noticed about the billionaires I spent time with for research is that their reading matter consists largely of copies of Forbes, that they are engaged in ‘a game’ against their peer group in which they have little perspective on the challenges facing a wider society, and that therefore their activities need to be framed by rules made by politicians.

How four tourists were charged Euro64 for four ice creams in Rome and how the bar says it is fair.

Meanwhile Sir Michael Jagger and Keith Richards, well-known anti-Establishment radicals, wax lyrical on the price function, the price of tickets for their US gigs, and why US$65 million is a fair return on a short tour. It’s very like the defence put up by the Roman ice cream sellers, except with more ‘you know, man’ and ‘some cat said’ thrown in.

I was once hitchhiking through Ireland and saw the most arresting biblical words I have come across written on a wall in huge letters. It didn’t seem like much at the time because Ireland was still pisspoor back then. But the words have gained resonance since: ‘What shall it profit a man that he should gain the world and thereby lose his soul?’ Let me know the answer when you have a moment Roman, or Mario, or Sir Mick.

If this isn’t enough about the trouble that money can cause, I am informed there will be in interview with Stanley Ho’s daughter Pansy in tomorrow’s UK Sunday Times. Here’s the background from this blog if you don’t know it.

Otherwise:

Here is a review of Amanda Knox’s biography. Here is another one by the co-writer of Sollecito’s book. And here is a typically snooty, but also useful, review by the Grey Matriarch of Manhattan.

I would recommend reading this book even though I have not done so yet. However you will have to buy an import if you are in the UK or get an electronic download (as I will). This is because British libel law and publisher spinelessness mean that Knox’s book has not been published in Britain.

Finally, here is a link to The Economist blogging on the subject of China Dreams. I post this for no better reason than that I wrote a book called The China Dream in 2002 and I think this was the first use of the term in this recent period. However I seem to recall finding one or more older books in the British library that referenced China dreams. Mind too befuddled to remember clearly and no time to check. (Later: for some reason The Economist then publishes a letter saying what the blog already pointed out in the print edition.)

When Britain was like Italy

April 21, 2013

A day in London allows for a few minutes talking about How Asia Works on CNBC here, and a longer discussion on the UK’s Monocle Radio ‘Globalist’ programme, (beginning at the 16 minute mark).

In between I decide to spend a couple of hours wandering the corridors of the Royal Courts of Justice, as the large building that contains the High Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal on The Strand is confusingly called. The place is of interest to anyone who wants to understand the need to constantly reform institutions. In particular, Italians should visit this building. It was constructed in the late 19th century to stop the British justice system being what Italy’s is today.

Law Royal Courts panorama

Before anyone enters, the essential book to read is Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, probably his greatest, which centres on a legal case that has multiplied and gone on for so long that no one can really remember exactly what the case is about, or quite why it started. People just attend hearings because the case(s) has(ve) taken on life(ves) of its(their) own. All that is clearly remembered is that the whole, huge, expensive, draining, painful affair concerns the Jarndyce family, which is enshrined in the case name, Jarndyce v Jarndyce. The different sides of the Jarndyce family just do what the lawyers tell them, and the case does not end until it has consumed all the family’s money, and caused the death of a sympathetic character, because the system makes it possible for cases never to end.

Things were so bad in the British legal system by the 1860s — students of development should note that this had not stopped the British economy growing and becoming the world’s most powerful — that there was eventually a cross-party consensus that radical reform was necessary. A royal commission (essentially an independent review) was set up to consolidate a morass of different legal institutions under one roof, streamline procedures and simplify judicial processes so that the system worked. The Royal Courts of Justice, which opened with their 18 (now 88) courts in 1882, shunted Britain on from the world of Bleak House. Opening the court, Queen Victoria’s speech stated the aim was to ‘conduce to the more speedy and efficient administration of justice’.

Almost always, you can just wander in to a court here and sit down and listen to what is going on. I spent half an hour observing the goings on in each of two randomly selected courtrooms. In Italy, I haven’t seen courtrooms beyond the provincial level (except on television). But some very loose points of comparison can be offered. Here in London there is no chatting during court proceedings, no playing around with mobile phones, no lawyers saying hello to their friends and colleagues in court while ignoring their clients, no male lawyers dedicating their working day to trying to flirt with any woman in sight. And everything is taped. When I once asked to tape record proceedings in an Italian court the judge grudgingly acceded, but with a look that suggested I was proposing a coup d’etat.

Unlike Italian courts, the Royal Courts give a sense of being places where stuff gets done. This is not to say that there isn’t plenty wrong with the justice system in the UK. However, compared with Italy, this is the modern world. The Royal Courts are a living museum of institutional development that is well worth a visit. For the kids, there is a room displaying all the silly outfits that judges and lawyers have worn over the years — and thankfully wear less of these days. The grown-up exhibit is the institutional progress captured in quite a beautiful building with its varied, interesting and business-like courtrooms.

Could Italy have the same thing in the foreseeable future? One way to consider this is to remember that the leaders who made the British reforms of the 1870s possible were Gladstone and Disraeli, working in concert. Would you consider that any of the putative ‘reformers’ of contemporary Italian politics — Monti,Berlusconi, Bersani, or Grillo — is in their league?

More

Imagine this in Italy: Edwin Wilkins Field, one of the key reformers and the Secretary to the royal commission of 1865 on the Royal Courts of Justice, declined remuneration!

Evolution continues: didn’t have time to go see it, but the latest addition to the Royal Courts is the Rolls Building, opened in 2011.

The Disneyland within Disneyland

March 26, 2013

Ital election Mickey face

Italian laywer toga

Upset, perhaps, that Italian politics is grabbing all the attention in the wake of recent elections, Italy’s judges are making a bold move to have the spotlight of international incredulity shine once more on their egomaniacal antics.

The national appeals court, the Court of Cassation, has sent the Meredith Kercher murder case back for a third trial, this time in Florence.

The headline reason (we won’t get the detailed ‘reasoning’ for up to 90 days) is that elements of the second trial were not conducted according to proper procedure.

To which the only response is: perhaps, but this is Italy, the Land of Unprofessionalism, where nothing is done entirely according to the rules.

On the other hand, the evidence that Sollecito and Knox were not responsible for the murder, that Rudy Guede was, and that police and magistrates broke countless laws in the course of the investigation and trial, is incontrovertible.

Nothing can now change the fact that the investigation of Meredith Kercher’s murder was staggeringly unprofessional, and that the handling of the physical evidence was disastrous.

These facts should have pointed Italy’s judiciary and its politicians to the need for urgent, radical reforms to the judicial and police systems (as recommended by the EU Commission, see below). Instead they are creating additional unnecessary pain for a large group of people, most obviously the victim’s family. And as ever in Italy, it is all done behind a gossamer veil of ‘propriety’.

More:

Guardian on the Court of Cassation decision.

In a report by the EU Commission last year, the human rights commissioner condemned the length of proceedings and the inefficiency of the Italian legal system, noting: ‘The complexity and magnitude of the problem is such that Italy needs nothing short of a holistic rethinking of its judicial and procedural system, as well as a shift in judicial culture, with a concerted effort from the Ministry of Justice and the High Council of the Judiciary, as well as judges, prosecutors and lawyers.’ Moreover, he said the problems are as much the fault of a self-serving judiciary as of politicians who fail to make judicial reforms: ‘While legislative action is necessary, it is not sufficient and should be complemented with organisational and management aspects for courts and judges, in line with the relevant guidelines of the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice. Existing examples, such as the experience of the First Instance Court of Turin, prove that good results can thus be obtained even within the current framework and without additional financial or human resources.’

In just over a month, Amanda Knox’s book about her experiences in Perugia will be out. One assumes that Giuliano Mignini will fire her off one of his suits for criminal defamation, as he did when Sollecito’s book was published.

Books about Salem I

September 19, 2012

Raffaele Sollecito’s book about his experiences in Italy’s witch-burning capital (and until recently my provincial capital), Perugia, is out. I haven’t read it, but The Guardian has an early review.

There are no surprises about the tales of police brutality and incompetence, which I have discussed at length under the ‘Italy to Avoid’ tab.

The one thing that grabs me is that Sollecito says both his family and his lawyers urged him to not to provide evidence in support of Amanda Knox in the hope that the police might let him off (because all they really wanted to do was convict a witch). That is the Italian parenting and the Italian lawyers we know and love. It also explains Sollecito’s evidence in court that he ‘couldn’t remember’ precise details of Knox’s movements the night of the murder. He found some sort of moral half-way house between honesty and the demands of his family and lawyers.

Amanda Knox’s book, out next year, will be much more interesting than this one. It looks like she is taking the time to give Perugia and the Italian judicial system the deconstruction they deserve.

The parcel is passed

December 11, 2011

Giuliano Mignini, the prosecutor in the Sollecito-Knox case, has had his conviction for abuse of office — relating to persecution of journalists and illegal investigations (details here under the 20 April 2010 entry) —  quashed after the Florence appeal court ruled his case should have been heard in Turin.

In theory Mignini can be tried again. But it looks like his case can has been kicked way down the road.

Despite Mario Monti’s promises of ‘Change-Italy’, at ground level things look very much like business as usual.

The Italian press has barely touched on Mignini’s successful appeal. There is a short report here in Italian, and an even shorter one here in English.

 

 


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