April 18, 2019 / 9:48 AM / 4 months ago

Investigation into League official opens rift in Italian government

ROME (Reuters) - An investigation into corruption allegations against a junior minister from the far-right League prompted fresh conflict on Thursday within Italy’s already troubled government.

The League and anti-establishment 5-Star Movement formed a coalition last June, but relations between the two parties have grown increasingly sour ahead of EU elections in May, and there has been media speculation that the government might fall apart.

The latest row centred on Armando Siri, an undersecretary in the transport ministry, who learnt on Thursday that he had been placed under investigation for allegedly taking bribes to help companies operating in the renewable energy sector.

He denied the accusations, but in a move that infuriated the League, the 5-Star’s Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli announced he was stripping Siri of his government responsibilities until his judicial position was clarified.

“A corruption enquiry demands the utmost attention and caution,” a transport ministry statement said.

The 5-Star has vowed zero tolerance against corruption in Italy and has built much of its support on the back of a squeaky clean image. However, its own image has been hit in recent years as some of its own politicians have faced charges of wrongdoing.

League leader Matteo Salvini, who also serves as deputy prime minister and interior minister, accused his coalition allies of hypocrisy by turning on Siri.

“I say to our 5-Star friends they defended (Rome Mayor Virginia) Raggi when she was under investigation. Please do not apply double standards,” Salvini said, referring to the fact that Raggi remained in office last year despite being charged with abusing her powers.

She was later cleared of the accusations.

The investigation into Siri is being led by Rome and Palermo prosecutors and concerns nine other people, judicial sources said. Siri demanded to be heard by the magistrates as soon as possible to clear his name.

Siri is a vocal supporter of sweeping tax cuts which are a core League campaign promise and part of the government’s programme.

In 2014, he plea-bargained a brief prison sentence over the fraudulent bankruptcy of a company that he was president of. He never served any time behind bars.

Reporting by Domenico Lusi; writing by Angelo Amante, editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Crispian Balmer

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