Tangentopoli began in February 17, 1992, when judge Antonio Di Pietro had Mario Chiesa, a member of the Italian Socialist Party, arrested. It was the start of his mani pulite (clean hands) investigation. News of political corruption began spreading in the press.
In the 1992 elections, the DC party lost many votes, but managed to keep a small majority, while the opposition gained votes. During April 1992, many industrial figures and politicians, both from the majority party and from the opposition, were arrested with charges of corruption.
On September 2, 1992, the socialist politician Sergio Moroni, charged with corruption, committed suicide. He left a letter pleading guilty, declaring that crimes were not for his personal gain but for the party's benefit, and accused the financing system of all parties.
On May 1992, the anti-Mafia Giovanni Falcone judge was killed together with his wife and his three bodyguards. The possible political mandate of the assassination was speculated, but was in the end proven false. A few months later, his colleague Paolo Borsellino was killed as well.
In the local December elections, the DC party lost half of their votes. The day after that, Bettino Craxi, head of the socialist party, was charged with corruption. After many other politicians were accused and jailed, Craxi resigned.
On March 5, 1993, the Italian government tried to find a solution with a new law for party financing, removing penal charges for many crimes and introducing instead small civil charges. The Italian president Oscar Luigi Scalfaro refused to sign the law. The following week, a US $250 million affair involving Eni, the government-controlled national energy society, was revealed. The stream of accusation, jailing and confessions continued.
On March 25, 1993, the Italian parliament changed the electoral law in favor of a majoritarian system. Still shocked by the recent events, the Parliament was unable to produce a new government. Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, former governor of the national bank, was appointed head of the government and produced a "technical" government without political influences. In the meantime, the investigation of Craxi was blocked by the parliament. Several members resigned in protest. In the new national elections on June 6, 1993, the DC party again lost half of its votes. The socialist party virtually disappeared. The Lega Nord independent party became the strongest political force in Northern Italy. The former left opposition party was approaching majority.
On July 20, 1993, the former Eni president committed suicide in jail. His wife later gave back $3 million of illegal funds. A high note was reached in the Eni trial when former head of government Forlani said "I don't remember", while Bettino Craxi said that his party received $93 million of illegal funds. His defense was that "everyone was doing this".
In the meantime, the investigation expanded outside the political range: on September 2, 1993, the Milan judge Diego CurtÚ was arrested. On April 21, 1994, 80 financial policemen and 300 industry personalities were charged with corruption. A few days later, the secretary of the large Fiat industry admitted the corruption with a letter to a newspaper.
In 1994, Silvio Berlusconi entered politics by storm and won the elections. Many think that this move was to preserve his many industries from possible corruption charges. This suspicion was reinforced on February 11, when Berlusconi's son admitted to corruption crimes. On July 13, 1994, the Berlusconi government made a new law to avoid jail time for most corruption crimes. Just a few days before, the arrested policemen had been talking about corruption in the Fininvest media industry, the biggest Berlusconi family property. Most of the investigation pool resigned in protest. On July 28, Berlusconi's son was arrested and immediately released.
What began then is what has been described by many as the "Berlusconi-Di Pietro battle". While Berlusconi industries were being investigated, "inspectors" were sent from the government to the judge's office to look for formal irregularities. The battle ended without winners: on December 6, Di Pietro resigned. Two weeks later, the Berlusconi government was forced by the parliament to resign.
During 1995, other investigations were called upon Di Pietro, who was later declared innocent. Berlusconi received other charges of corruption, and his political relationship with Craxi was exposed. Di Pietro starred a brief political career.
In 1996, another judge was arrested, and another investigation was made against Di Pietro.
In 1998, Cesare Previti, former manager of Fininvest and then sitting in parliament after the Berlusconi government, avoided jailing thanks to parliament intervention. Berlusconi and Craxi were condemned for corruption. Craxi flew away to Tunisia, where he remained until his death on January 19, 2000.
In the next years, trials ended with mixed results. Tangentopoli quietly died, after what felt like a revolution for Italian politics.