- The largest financial and political scandal of liberal Italy occurred in 1893–1894 as a consequence of the failure of the Banca Romana, which was one of six banks authorized to issue currency notes. Asecret auditors’report in 1889 accused the bank of numerous breaches of the law and found the bank to be technically insolvent. The government, anxious not to cause panic in the market, did not act on the report. In December 1892, however, it was leaked to an opposition member of Parliament. The then prime minister, Giovanni Giolitti, was forced to form an impartial committee of inquiry that confirmed the calamitous state of the bank’s books. The scandal widened in 1893 when it became clear that many politicians and newspapers had been bribed by the bank for silence and support. Giolitti introduced a banking reform law in August 1893 that reduced the number of banks authorized to print notes to just three and that intensified state controls over the emission of money. This action did not prevent a run on the banks at the end of the year and did not save Giolitti from being the most illustrious political victim of the scandal. In November 1893, a parliamentary inquiry found Giolitti guilty of negligence. The inquiry could find no proof that Giolitti had been bribed, but this suspicion obviously hung over the prime minister. Giolitti was forced to resign. In 1894, the scandal spread further when documents provided by Giolitti proved that his political rival, Francesco Crispi, together with members of his family, had been beneficiaries of substantial undisclosed “loans” from the Banca Romana. When this fact was revealed by a five-man parliamentary committee of inquiry on 15 December 1894, Crispi responded by suspending a parliamentary sitting that intended to debate his involvement in the scandal. Fearing arrest, Giolitti left Italy for Berlin, where he remained until February 1895. Crispi, meanwhile, kept Parliament closed until May 1895, when he called, and won, fresh national elections thanks to a large vote in his favor in southern Italy. In December 1895, Giolitti was finally absolved of any wrongdoing by the Chamber of Deputies. Crispi’s large parliamentary majority, and growing public boredom, enabled the prime minister to cut his losses by burying the whole affair.
Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. Mark F. Gilbert & K. Robert Nilsson. 2007.