ROME (Reuters) - The son and grandson of Italy’s last king are seeking damages from the country for sending the men of the once illustrious House of Savoy into exile after World War Two when Italians voted to end the monarchy.
The family’s lawyers, in a letter to the government, are arguing that the exile of male heirs was a violation of their human rights, under European Union rules.
The son and grandson of late King Umberto II, who died in Portugal in 1983, are eligible for damages of at least 260 million euros (187 million pounds), said royal family spokesman Filippo Bruno di Tornaforte.
“It was a violation of their human rights,” he told Reuters. “This is absolutely clear.”
He was later quoted telling Italian media that the proceeds would go to a Savoy family foundation that does charity work.
The request for damages, which Italian media said has not yet been accompanied by a formal lawsuit, opened old wounds in Italy and shocked members of the ruling centre-left coalition of Prime Minister Romano Prodi.
One official at Prodi’s office was quoted as telling Italian state television that Italy may now turn around and seek damages from the Savoy royals over historic grievances.
Italians voted to abolish the monarchy after World War Two, punishing the family for first collaborating with fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and then fleeing Rome in 1944 to avoid an invading German army.
“It’s truly nonsense,” said lawmaker Renzo Lusetti of the family’s request, adding he believed the statute of limitations on that grievance had surely run out.
Communist lawmaker Pino Sgobio called it a “a sign of moral, civil and social decadence”.
Giulio Andreotti, an 88-year-old former prime minister who has been serving in parliament since 1946, seemed to quote from memory that Italy only seized the Savoy assets belonging to the former king. That was a fifth of the assets of Umberto II’s father, he told Italian media.
Prince Vittorio Emanuele, a 9-year-old when the royal family left Italy, has requested 170 million euros ($251.3 million) in damages.
He was based in Switzerland with his family until 2003, returning soon after Italy lifted a ban on male heirs of the country’s throne from entering the country.
His son, Emanuele Filiberto, has asked for 90 million euros, and according to Italian media was due to appear on a television talk-show to explain his request.
Writing by Phil Stewart; Editing by Michael Winfrey