Magistrate Alfonso Sabella:
The Mafia has no humanity
Forget about The Godfather characters, these are not men of honour
7 October, 2017Close-up: Alfonso Sabella was born in Sicily. He has a degree in law from the Catholic university in Milan (Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore). Sabella started his career as a lawyer in his parents’ law firm. In 1989 he met prosecutor Giovanni Falcone and in the early 1990s, as a magistrate in Palermo, he was an active participant in the state’s largest anti-mob campaign, known as Operation Mani Pulite (clean hands). Over the course of 5-6 years Sabella helped track down, arrest and successfully prosecute more than 100 mob leaders. In 2000 he moved to Rome to take a position at the Ministry of Justice. In late 2014 he was personally appointed by the Mayor of Rome Ignazio Marino as an advisor for legality and transparency in public funds management. At present, he is a judge in Naples. Recently, Sabella visited Sofia to present his second book The Infected Capital (Capitale infetta).
- Mr Sabella, you like to say that there is too much to lose and too little to gain in your extremely dangerous line of work. In which of these two categories does your latest book, The Infected Capital, fall?
- Any gain worth mentioning here is certainly not measured in monetary terms. I am confident that by sharing my experience I have been helpful to the municipality of Rome with new mechanisms of work. I also introduced a new approach that was very useful in curbing corruption practices during the time I was directly involved in combating this issue.
- You argue that crime and corruption are a contagion that has spread to the core of the state.
- Actually, The Infected Capital is a reference to the title of a 1956 newspaper article - Corrupted Capital, Infected State, alluding to the fact that the infection had, at that point, become part of the state, it was deeply embedded.
- On the face of it, politicians are the ones that set up anti-corruption committees and write the relevant legislation but then some of them are ultimately exposed as imposters, people who do not mind getting involved in illegal schemes. How are we supposed to fight against this deceit camouflaged by good intentions?
- It is clear that in the absence of political will this problem cannot even begin to be addressed, let alone solved. The justice system, the police, etc. cannot be the solution on their own. True, they intervene, illuminate the facts, but the reality is that we need to focus on prevention. And in order for that to happen there needs to be political will so that politicians not only make laws but also appoint honourable people who will truly commit to tackling these issues. Everything outside of that, as so many European countries have shown recently, is simply populism. Such an approach has a devastating effect on regular people, who lose faith, and is detrimental to the state. Italy has no choice but to acknowledge the existence of corruption, as it occupies the unenviable 61st spot in the latest rankings based on this indicator. Granted, over the past few years the governments in Italy took a series of measures aimed at extending the sentences of individuals of the criminal world, the limitation periods within which legal proceedings for certain felonies may be brought have also been extended, but it is all far from enough.
The system must be changed from the inside. Because when the impetus is external we are talking about revolutions that lead to dramatic events, without necessarily offering the ultimate solution. I believe we are at the point where politicians can no longer afford to push this problem back. It is high time that we stopped using the familiar mechanisms because they only accumulate negatives. One such example is treating the appointments of government officials as a tool to serve political agendas. I repeat, honest, honourable and competent people are needed in the administration. Moreover, red-tape procedures should also be simplified, as overcomplicated ones open the door to corruption practices. I am also convinced that each department of state and municipal institutions should have a person charged with overseeing it and therefore being accountable for its results, and not only on paper. There should be a single structure tasked with approving public procurement contracts. There are 15 municipalities in Rome and each one has the right to carry out public procurement procedures. For example, if we need to buy 15 armchairs, there may be 15 tenders instead of one, which means 15 opportunities for corruption to sneak in. We then end up paying 15 times the true value of the goods, while 15 administrative structures spend time on a simple task. Even worse, the oversight is scattered over 15 structures, which is a waste of time and resources.
Rome has 46 contracting authorities when it comes to public procurement. It is obvious that politicians aim for a system that is hard to control, as it is easier to monitor one structure than an N number of those. I offered this centralisation idea while I was still working for the municipality of Rome. The municipal council approved the suggestion but it never reached the parliamentary floor. Then I left and the people who succeeded me buried the proposal and the old situation was reinstated.
There is another mechanism that should be developed and I call it “programmed emergency assistance”. What does it mean? The municipality provides various services in the areas of waste collection, social security, trade and transportation, but there is no planning involved. And then all of a sudden, a need for emergency solution crops up. I am adamant that the emergency factor is always connected to corruption because in such instances the contract is given directly by necessity, without a tender or a competition. This mechanism is working perfectly for its supporters.
- You have personally contributed to the arrest of over 100 mob leaders in Italy. Do you see a common denominator between those people in terms of response - do they consider themselves victims, a failure, or do they view themselves as untouchable and therefore bound to quickly escape the clutches of the law?
- None of them see themselves as victims. Money and power are the ultimate values to them, while human dignity and human life are completely disregarded. They know nothing of ethical norms. Thanks to the efforts of hundreds of my colleagues, hundreds of mobsters were arrested, which was a serious hit to the Mafia.
- What motivates you to continue this fight?
- Every person reaches a crossroads at some point in their life. I am proud that my country, despite having earned a bad name as the home country of the Mafia, has shown the ways to fight organised crime. Our methods in that regard are being copied across the world. As a young magistrate, I faced a choice between dedicating my life to my country and leaving it. I chose to stay. There are many people like me in Italy.