Italian PM sacks Salvini ally suspected of corruption and mafia ties

Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Wednesday sacked a graft-tainted junior minister close to populist leader Matteo Salvini, averting a government crisis weeks ahead of European elections.

Italian PM sacks Salvini ally suspected of corruption and mafia ties
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (L) with his deputy and interior minister, Matteo Salvini. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

Infrastructure and transport undersecretary Armando Siri, a member of coalition partner the League, is alleged to have accepted a €30,000 bribe — or the promise of it — from a businessman for promoting the interests of renewable energy companies.

Prosecutors also suspect the businessman of being in league with a Sicilian who has links to a Mafia boss.

Salvini, who is head of the anti-immigrant League party and deputy prime minister, had repeatedly insisted his ally Siri has done nothing wrong and should stay in his job.

Armando Siri. Photo: – CC BY 3.0

“There was a very frank and inhabitual cabinet discussion… but without citizens' trust, it would be hard to keep being the government of change,” Conte told journalists. 

“Today the cabinet decided, as proposed by the prime minister, to start the procedure to revoke secretary of state Armando Siri,” co-deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio said after the cabinet meeting.

“Not because he's guilty but simply because for us, if a corruption and mafia investigation is mentioned, [then] the political world must react before the judges do,” said Di Maio, who heads the Five Star Movement (M5S).

The M5S, which made “honesty” a keyword of its political campaign before being elected last year, had demanded Siri resign. Premier Conte had on Thursday said Siri should resign, but the latter had refused, with Salvini's backing.

READ ALSO: How Italy's Five Star Movement wants to change EU politics

The head of the Five Star Movement, Luigi Di Maio. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

“Today this is a victory for Italians, the honest Italians who represent the vast majority of the population and who demand firmness in a country where corruption is a national emergency,” said Di Maio.

A visibly disappointed Salvini told journalists after the cabinet meeting that “trials are done by courts.” Italy is home to “60 million people who are innocent until proven guilty”, he said.

Italian politicians including tycoon and former premier Silvio Berlusconi have in the past used drawn-out court cases and the presumption of innocence to shield themselves from allegations of wrongdoing.

Salvini's League is hoping to progress in European parliament elections on May 26th and wants to keep its increasingly fragile ruling coalition intact until then, at least.


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Italian rivals pitch abroad in trilingual vote videos

Days after Italy's far-right leader made a multilingual appeal to foreign commentators to take her seriously, her main rival in September elections issued his own tit-for-tat video Saturday condemning her record.

Italian rivals pitch abroad in trilingual vote videos

Former prime minister Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, declared his pro-European credentials in a video in English, French and Spanish, while deriding the euroscepticism of Italy’s right-wing parties.

It echoes the trilingual video published this week by Giorgia Meloni, tipped to take power in the eurozone’s third largest economy next month, in which she sought to distance her Brothers of Italy party from its post-fascist roots.

“We will keep fighting to convince Italians to vote for us and not for them, to vote for an Italy that will be in the heart of Europe,” Letta said in English.

His party and Meloni’s are neck-and-neck in opinion polls ahead of September 25 elections, both with around 23 percent of support.

But Italy’s political system favours coalitions, and while Meloni is part of an alliance with ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi and anti-immigration leader Matteo Salvini, Letta has struggled to unite a fractured centre-left.

Speaking in French perfected in six years as a dean at Sciences Po university in Paris, Letta emphasised European solidarity, from which Italy is currently benefiting to the tune of almost 200 billion euros ($205 billion) in
post-pandemic recovery funds.

“We need a strong Europe, we need a Europe of health, a Europe of solidarity. And we can only do that if there is no nationalism inside European countries,” he said.

He condemned the veto that he said right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor “Orban — friends and allies of the Italian right — is using every time he can (to) harm Europe”.

In Spanish, Letta highlighted Meloni’s ties with Spain’s far-right party Vox, at whose rally she spoke earlier this summer, railing at the top of her voice against “LGBT lobbies”, Islamist violence, EU bureaucracy and mass

In English, he condemned the economic legacy of Berlusconi, a three-time premier who left office in 2011 as Italy was on the brink of economic meltdown, but still leads his Forza Italia party.

Letta’s programme includes a focus on green issues — he intends to tour Italy in an electric-powered bus — and young people, but he has made beating Meloni a key plank of his campaign.

Meloni insisted in her video that fascism was in the past, a claim greeted with scepticism given her party still uses the logo of a flame used by the Italian Social Movement set up by supporters of fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

In a joint manifesto published this week, Meloni, Berlusconi and Salvini committed themselves to the EU but called for changes to its budgetary rules — and raised the prospect of renegotiating the pandemic recovery plan.

Elections were triggered by the collapse of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government last month, and are occurring against a backdrop of soaring inflation, a potential winter energy crisis and global uncertainty sparked by
the Ukraine war.