Italy’s ‘Modern Robin Hood’ Who Stole Over $1 Million and Gave It to the Poor Won’t Go to Jail

The Colosseum sits in Rome’s city center. (Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

When the financial crisis wreaked havoc across the globe in 2009, a bank manager in the small Italian town of Forni di Sopra decided he had to do something to help those most affected. In testimony later provided to prosecutors, Gilberto Baschiera described how he increasingly struggled to justify rejecting loan requests from residents who were too poor to qualify.

At the time, the Italian government was desperately trying to prevent the country’s looming bankruptcy but kept falling short of targets set by the European Union and other creditors. Amid what he felt was an absence of alternatives, Baschiera decided to take matters into his own hands.

He set up a shadowy banking system in the town of 1,100 people, taking money from wealthy clients and secretly transferring it to the accounts of poorer residents so that they could qualify for loans. Within seven years, Baschiera diverted 1 million euros ($1.15 million), according to prosecutors.

Then, in 2016, the scheme went bust. Clients had defaulted on their loans and were unable to pay Baschiera back. The system’s implosion turned Baschiera into a hero for some Italian journalists, and Italy’s Libero newspaper called him a “modern Robin Hood,” referring to the legendary English bandit who stole from the rich to give to the poor. But authorities were already investigating.

“He trusted that the people he was helping were going to be able to pay back, and some of them didn’t,” said Baschiera’s lawyer, Roberto Mete, speaking to the BBC. Mete could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Investigators determined that Baschiera had not personally benefited from the scheme, which helped him strike a deal with prosecutors. Baschiera was convicted and sentenced on Monday to two years in prison, but he won’t have to go to jail due to a provision in Italian law that allows courts to show leniency on first-time offenders who were handed relatively short prison sentences.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Rick Noack