By Steve Scherer
ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on Friday proposed tougher laws against corruption amid an investigation in Rome into a mafia-like group that offered bribes to officials in exchange for lucrative public contracts.
The government wants to prolong the minimum and maximum sentences for corruption by two years - to six and 10 respectively - which will extend the statute of limitations for the crime.
The measures, which will be inserted into a bill already being reviewed by parliament, will also make it easier to confiscate money and property from those convicted of corruption, the prime minister said.
"The central point is that who is convicted must pay for his crime, to the last day and to the last cent," Renzi said.
Last week Rome prosecutors arrested 37 people and placed dozens of others under investigation, including a former mayor, for their involvement in a network of corruption allegedly run by a former right-wing extremist with long-standing ties to the capital's underworld.
The 39-year-old Renzi, who took power in February, has moved to respond to the investigation in which several members of the ruling Democratic Party (PD) in the capital have been implicated.
Though no one with close ties to Renzi has been touched by the scandal, it has undermined his efforts to portray his PD as a break with the often corrupt Italian politics of the past.
Under Italian law, the crime of corruption refers to paying a bribe to a public official and is always a custodial offence.
But currently, very few actually go to prison for the crime. Only 257 inmates out of 54,000 in Italian prisons, or 0.5 percent, are serving time for corruption, Renzi said.
Those accused of corruption who plea bargain often do no jail time, and the statute of limitations often expires before a defendant exhausts Italy's mandatory three appeals.
The new rules should mean that even those who plea bargain will serve some jail time, and that there will be more time to complete the trial process before the statute of limitations runs out, Renzi said.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer, editing by John Stonestreet)