The scandal culminated in the indictment in 1993 of the powerful Socialist leader and former Prime Minister Bettino Craxi. After being assailed under a hail of coins by outraged Italians, Mr. Craxi fled to Tunisia, where he died in self-imposed exile.
Mr. Borrelli and his associates revealed a corrupt system that had been standard operating procedure in Italy for decades.
“We were all guilty, we all closed our eyes when we should have kept them wide open,” Mr. Borrelli told the Rome-based daily newspaper La Repubblica in 1993.
But it was Mr. Borrelli’s willingness to put the guilty behind bars that made him and his disciples — some of whom entered politics — beloved by a deeply frustrated Italian public. He was aware that his power stemmed from the crowds that chanted his name and sent a blizzard of faxes to his office congratulating him.
Critics, though, say it was at that moment that Mr. Borrelli created a guilty-until-proved-innocent mentality in the Italian judiciary; a cult of personality, they say, developed around star prosecutors while regard for politicians and the establishment class cratered. Those critics trace the rise of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the anti-establishment populist parties in power today to Mr. Borrelli’s erosion of faith in professional politicians.
Mr. Berlusconi, in fact, filled the political vacuum created by Mr. Borrelli’s investigation when he first became prime minister in 1994. After the Clean Hands investigation concluded, Mr. Borrelli spent much of his time investigating Mr. Berlusconi, a brash former media tycoon, and even once arrested Mr. Berlusconi’s brother. But his cases against him never stuck.
Information on survivors was not immediately available.
Once retired from the judiciary, Mr. Borrelli dedicated his life to his other passion, classical music, becoming the president of Milan Conservatory in 2007. He played piano, rode horses and hiked in the Alps, but, he told La Repubblica, without distinction in any of those endeavors.
“I cannot be a pro in everything,” he said.
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