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'Natural lawyer' with a zeal to fight corruption

WHEN he accepted the task of chairing the payments-to-politicians tribunal, Michael Moriarty (above) thought the job might take six months.

That was 10 years ago.

It is the High Court judge's zeal to expose corruption that has seen him through the last decade of murky dealings in Irish politics and business.

But it has exacted a huge personal toll on the conscientious lawyer who has recently separated from his wife Mary Irvine, a highly respected senior counsel. Friends say the burden of producing the ground-breaking report had placed a strain on their marriage.

Born in Belfast in 1946, Judge Moriarty was educated in Blackrock College, UCD and King's Inns.

He became a senior counsel at 38; and two years later, became a Circuit Court judge, where he put in nine gruelling years dealing with crime in the Dublin Circuit Court.

Labour Party TD Ruairi Quinn said: "I have a lot of regard for him. He is excellent company. He is very bright but he wears that intelligence lightly. He is a natural lawyer."

The judge was known for his sense of fairness during his 10 years on the Circuit Criminal Court bench. He took up his current position in 1997.

One barrister said: "His life-long ambition is to achieve truth. He would see corruption as one of the vices of society. He would root it out wherever he found it."

During his career, Moriarty was instrumental in helping expand the role of the probation and welfare services. He was also active in the Catholic Youth Council in his spare time.

A close friend, Fr Martin Clarke said: "He has a social conscience and had sensitivity for those born into disadvantaged backgrounds. He saw the bigger picture. He also visited prisons quite a bit. Many criminals had a lot of respect for him even though he would have to sentence them for their wrongdoing.

"He has never complained about the job or the role he is in at the tribunal. I think it is a difficult job, because of the length of time it has taken and because he is the sole member and carries a lot of responsibility."

Mr Quinn said the Dail never believed the Moriarty Tribunal would drag on for so long when TDs voted for it in 1997.

"The tribunal got tougher as he got into the subject matter."

DEARBHAIL McDONALD

LEGAL AFFAIRS

CORRESPONDENT Irish Independent

Giovanni Falcone another dedicated lawyer who gave his life to fighting corruption and criminality.(Pictured above)

It has been ten years since Sicily's most distinguished anti-Mafia crusader was murdered when his car and escort were blown up by a bomb planted beneath the road leading to Palermo's airport. Sadly, several of those who conspired to assassinate him were recently released from prison (in March 2002) in return for having cooperated as "pentiti" by turning state's evidence to convict other Mafiosi. Prominent among them is the infamous Santino "Little Saint" De Matteo of Altofonte. Yet, Falcone's memory lives, and the Palermo airport now bears his name and that of fellow magistrate Paolo Borsellino, also a victim of the Mafia.

Born in Palermo in 1939, Giovanni Falcone spent part of his youth in the Magione district which suffered extensive destruction during the Allied aerial attacks of 1943. He was the son of Arturo Falcone, director of a provincial chemical laboratory, and Luisa Bentivegna. After a classical education, Giovanni studied law following a brief period of study at Livorno's naval academy. Graduating in 1961, he began to practice law before being appointed a judge in 1964. In Italy, judges are appointed, never elected, based on a series of examinations. Falcone eventually gravitated toward penal law after serving as a district magistrate in Sicily at Lentini, Trapani and elsewhere. It was work that he found challenging but also rewarding.

By the 1970s, he was dealing with cases involving organised crime. Falcone's work was groundbreaking for several reasons. He began to dissolve the aura of mystique and myths surrounding the structure and culture of the Mafia, and by the 1980s, following years of bloodshed (and the murders of police officers and judges), he was making headway in this pursuit. It was as much a sociological task as a juridical one. Falcone was also an innovator in that he persuaded several important Mafiosi, most notably Tomasso Buscetta, to talk about the Mafia and provide useful information about its activities. Cooperation with American authorities was also important, since the Mafia is an international organisation. Before Falcone's efforts, little progress had been made in prosecuting Sicilian Mafiosi who moved about in the United States, particularly in the New York area, without being traced by Italian authorities or identified by American ones. Later, the success of the "Pizza Connection" trial in the United States owed much to Falcone's efforts in Italy.

The 1980s became the "Years of Lead" in Palermo as one judge or law-enforcement officer after another was gunned down or blown to pieces by the Mafia --Cesare Terranova, Rocco Chinnici, Emanuele Basile and Giuseppe Montana, to name just a few. A handful of prominent Palermitan politicians, including Salvatore Lima (an aging ex-mayor who had sold building construction permits to gangsters only to be murdered by the organisation he had supported), bridled at the prospect of their own alleged or implicit ties to organised crime being alluded to by Falcone's frequent comments to the press, which they characterised as "overzealous." Mayor Leoluca Orlando, a grandstander who had garnered praise as an outspoken "opponent" of the Mafia, was known to make accusations of his own; in the late 1990s he invoked Falcone's name when it was politically convenient to do so.

Few Sicilians shared the more eccentric opinions of either Orlando or Lima. Clearly, however, there were magistrates and politicians, in Milan and Rome as well as Palermo, who took offence to Falcone's findings, perhaps afraid that these might hit too close to home. In 1988, Italy's highest court controversially ruled, in a particular case, against allowing any juridical procedures which presupposed a vertically organised structure of the Mafia at a national level (as opposed to a localised organisation), and this made further prosecutions difficult for the next few years. The move seemed contradictory in a nation that had enacted legislation against "criminality of the Mafia type," inspiring the practical application of the RICO statute in the United States. (The high court later rescinded on this point.) All the while, the intrepid and outspoken Rudolph Giuliani, then federal southern district judge for New York (and Falcone's American counterpart in almost every sense), applauded Falcone's efforts, which were echoed by the FBI's Louis Freeh, another American jurist of Italian ancestry.

In 1986 and 1987, Falcone and others presided over the "Maxi Trial" of 475 alleged Mafiosi in Palermo. The case, a parallel to the Pizza Connection trial, drew international attention by bringing the Mafia out into the open, but sadly, most of the 338 criminals convicted served little more than token sentences before being released under Italy's lax penal code, with its extremely high burden of proof. It did, however, result in the conviction of Mafia kingpin Michele Greco and, eventually, Salvatore Riina, Greco's successor from Corleone.

The Mafia's shadow, whether in the form of the drug trade, money laundering, political corruption (payoffs and kickbacks) or the pizzo (protection money), permeates every facet of the Sicilian economy, and statistically the problem is far worse in Palermo than in Catania. Giovanni Falcone knew this, and so do most Sicilians. Apart from cases of localised interest, Falcone dealt with important narcotics cases, then the Mafia's stock and trade internationally.

For all the press attention he was receiving, Falcone was becoming a lone crusader as the political establishment, having much to hide, now proved uncooperative, but the common folk regarded the Palermitan as a folk hero. Meanwhile, the Mafia was contemplating Falcone's murder, and actually attempted it several times. Despite languishing government support, Falcone and his staff continued their work in the Anti-Mafia Pool headquartered in Rome. This entailed a national position for Falcone as Italy's main prosecutor for Mafia cases, and extensive travel between Rome and Palermo.

Constructed in a climate of construction kickbacks, bribery and blatant Mafia opportunism, the Palermo airport, surrounded by steep cliffs, is quite distant from the city, but Falcone's speeding police escort could make the trip in twenty minutes. Along the autostrada on 23 May 1992, near the town of Capaci, Falcone's car was exploded by a mass of plastic explosive placed in a small underpass. Vehicles were destroyed, and so was a segment of road. Falcone's wife, Francesca Morvilio, also a magistrate, was killed with him and the members of his escort, police officers Rocco Di Cillo, Vito Schifani and Antonio Montinaro. Back in Palermo, the assassins were already plotting the murder of Paolo Borsellino, the judge who worked with Falcone.

Several important Mafiosi were arrested in Sicily in the years following, and the last decade has seen a marked reduction in Mafia-related crime. Falcone may not have defeated the organisation, which still thrives today (complete with websites published by the children of convicted Mafiosi), but he certainly hindered its growth. In the end, one can ask little more of a single courageous hero.

About the Author: Palermo native Vincenzo Salerno has written biographies of several famous Sicilians, including Frederick II and Giuseppe di Lampedusa. © 2002 Vincenzo Salerno