'New Bribesville' hits Italy Inc before election

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SummaryCorruption probes at three major companies have hurt corporate Italy's image with investors and revived memories, just a week before an election, of the scandals that devastated Italian politics in the 1990s.

said Stefano Zamagni, a professor of economics at the University of Bologna.

"It is obvious that the economic damage is great."

Other major exporting countries also prosecute companies in similar cases of corrupting foreign officials to make sales.

Many in business say they welcome efforts by Monti, a former EU commissioner who is now running for office as a centrist, to crack down on corruption among Italian officials and hope the next administration can help improve their country's reputation.

Though less ambitious that Monti's original proposal, parliament endorsed new measures in November to increase penalties for demanding bribes and other abuses of office.

"The current government has managed to push through an anti-corruption law. This is maybe not exactly what people had hoped for but it is nonetheless a step forward," said Sandro De Poli, chief executive of U.S. industrial giant GE's Italian arm.

"The issue has now been raised and I hope the next government can do better."

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