Italian 'Robin Hood' banker sentenced over €1m pilfered for the poor

An Italian bank manager who robbed from the rich to give to the poor has narrowly escaped going to prison.

Gilberto Baschiera was the bank manager in the small mountain town of Forni di Sopra, where he stole about €1m (£0.9m) over seven years.

He took small amounts from wealthy clients and transferred it to those who couldn't qualify for credit.

But he never pocketed a penny for himself - and avoided going to jail after a plea bargain with authorities.

"I have always thought that in addition to protecting savers, our task was to help those in need," Baschiera said, according to Italian newspaper Corriere Della Serra.

He was handed a two-year sentence for his crimes. Since it was his first offence and the sentence is relatively short, he will not be imprisoned under Italian law.

'Shadow financing system'

But the tale has not ended well for the man labelled a modern-day Robin Hood by some Italian press. His lawyer, Roberto Mete, told the BBC that his client had lost his home as well as his job.

"He wanted to help people who couldn't access loans the normal way," Mr Mete said.

The ill-fated fairytale started in 2009, during the global financial crisis.

When a citizen of the town came to him looking for a loan - but did not qualify - Baschiera would "add" money to their account so that they would qualify for credit.

Grateful customers agreed to repay that money quickly - but some did not, leaving Baschiera exposed.

"He created a kind of shadow financing system," Mr Mete said - one that grew to almost a million euros over several years.

"He trusted that the people he was helping were going to be able to pay back - and some of them didn't," the lawyer added - and his employer eventually discovered the hole in the accounts.

"He explained to authorities why he had done it, and that he thought the people he was helping would manage to pay back the money," Mr Mete said.

The fact that he did not personally benefit from the crime at all helped to secure his plea deal and spare him from prison.

"He thinks he wouldn't do it again," his lawyer said. "He was convinced he could help people. But now he's lost his job and his own home".

Italian media also report that after the story surfaced, Baschiera called every wealthy customer he had stolen from to explain his actions.

Much of the reporting around the case focused on the solidarity shown by Baschiera despite the legal risk.

Forni di Sopra is a small community of just over 1,000 people - making the bank manager an important figure in the town.

Writing about the affair, Italian daily La Stampa opined: "The director of the local bank, in a small village, is not the same as the others."

"He is a god. With a yes or no, it can change your life forever."

Quoted in La Repubblica, Baschiera said the banking system "abandons pensioners with the minimum and young people without resources".

"The economic crisis changed the criteria," he said. "It was no longer decided on the basis of an overall assessment of the customer, but on the level of reliability established at the desk, through a computer."

"But the price I paid is too high. I do not think I would do it again," he said. - BBC