- The Guardian
Italy’ s highest court has ruled that the theft of a sausage and piece of cheese by a homeless man did not constitute a crime because he was in desperate need of nourishment. After three trials in lower courts, judges in the supreme court of cassation found that Roman Ostriakov, 36, and originally from Ukraine, had bought a bag of breadsticks from a supermarket but had slipped a wurstel, or small sausage, and some cheese into his pocket. The judges said he had acted out of an immediate need and therefore had not committed a crime. The case, which drew comparisons to the story of Jean Valjean, the hero of Victor Hugo’ s Les Misérables, was hailed by some in Italy’ s media as an act of humanity at a time when hundreds of Italians are being added to the roster of the country’ s “hungry” every day, despite improvements in the economy. One columnist writing in La Stampa said that, for supreme court judges, the right to survive still trumped property rights, a fact that might be considered “blasphemy in America”. But others suggested that the case had highlighted Italy’ s notoriously inefficient legal system, in which the theft of food valued at about €4.07 (£3) had become the subject of a three-part trial to determine whether the defendant had, in fact, committed a crime. “Yes, you read that right,” an opinion column in Corriere della Sera noted, “in a country with a burden of €60bn in corruption every year, it took three degrees of proceedings to determine this was not a crime.” It is not clear whether the decision by the court of cassation sets a precedent for cases. Initially Ostriakov was arrested in Genoa in 2011, then at a lower court in the city convicted of theft and sentenced, in 2015, to six months in jail with a €100 fine. But that conviction was this week overturned by the supreme court, which went beyond the appeal sought in the case for a more lenient sentence. Carlo Rienzi, president of Codacons, an environmental and consumer rights group, told the newspaper Il Messaggero: “The supreme court has established a sacrosanct principle: a small theft because of hunger is in no way comparable to an act of delinquency, because the need to feed justifies the fact.”In recent years the economic crisis has increased dramatically the number of citizens, especially the elderly, forced to steal in supermarkets to be able to make ends meet.” Rienzi added that in such cases, the real offence was caused by the state, for its abandonment of poor people, whom it turned into food thieves. The decision will likely please Italy’ s most vociferous champion of the homeless, Pope Francis. The Vatican announced this week that the pope would be welcoming thousands of homeless people and others living “on the margins of society” to Rome in November, marking the closing of the Jubilee of Mercy year. The European Festival of Joy and Mercy will take place from 11 to 13 November and will include about 6,000 vulnerable people, who will be offered an audience with the pope, a papal mass and tour of Rome. Recent studies found that one in four people in Italy are at risk of poverty or social exclusion. Caritas Europe, a unit of the Catholic charity group, found that 28.4% of Italians were at risk compared to 24.5% of people in the EU. Another report by the statisticians Noi Italia, based on 2013 data, confirmed the scale of the economic devastation facing Italians following years of recession and economic stagnation.