Italy Corruption Growing Amid Debt Crisis, Says Justice Minister

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A giant mask of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is displayed on February 27, 2010 as tens of thousands demonstrate in the center of Rome after a Milan court adjourned for a month the corruption trial of Berlusconi. Earlier on February 27, the billionaire politician got a reprieve in a case over his alleged payment of 600,000 dollars (440,000 euros) to British tax lawyer David Mills in exchange for false testimony during two trials in the mid-1990s. The protest was organized by the 'Violet Peopl | Getty Images

ROME -- Italy's justice minister is warning that rampant corruption by politicians' pilfering public funds is reaching unprecedented levels, just as the government is demanding sacrifices from its citizens to keep the country from succumbing to the European debt crisis.

Minister Paola Severino says corruption is worse than during 1990s kickback probes, nicknamed "Bribesville," that brought down an entire ruling class.

In an interview Sunday with Sky TG-24 TV, Severino said corruption is "extremely widespread in a context of great political weakness."

The non-elected technocrat government of economist Premier Mario Monti has slashed public spending, raised taxes and made Italians work longer for their pensions.

Corruption probes have rocked regional governments in Rome, the financial capital of Milan, and elsewhere. Several political parties hit by corruption scandals face elections next spring.

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