Italian minister accused of abuse of power

Justice minister Anna Maria Cancellieri said to have intervened in case to free family friend from jail

Anna Maria Cancellieri: the justice minister yesterday denied any wrongdoing. Photograph: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

Anna Maria Cancellieri: the justice minister yesterday denied any wrongdoing. Photograph: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images


Probably the last thing that Italy’s shaky seven-month old coalition government needed was a scandal involving one of the ministers in prime minister Enrico Letta’s cabinet. Yet, yesterday the justice minister, Anna Maria Cancellieri, was forced to address both houses of parliament in an attempt to save her ministerial post.

Ms Cancellieri is accused of having used her office this summer to intervene on behalf of the daughter of family friends, who was imprisoned for involvement in a €600 million insurance company fraud. Giulia Ligresti, who had been given a two-year and eight-months prison sentence for her fraudulent role in her family’s Fonsai insurance empire, was released from prison and transferred to house arrest in mid-September, two months after her arrest in July.

The minister has been friendly with members of the Ligresti family for more than 30 years while her relationship with Fonsai insurance is complicated by the fact that her son, Piergiorgio Peluso, last year received a €3.6 million severance pay package from Fonsai after working for the company for only one year.

Despite the serious media accusations levelled against her, the minister yesterday denied any wrongdoing saying that Ms Ligresti’s release was “autonomously” decided by Turin magistrates, not by her.

Confidence vote
For the time being, it seems that the Letta government will ride out this latest storm with both major coalition partners, the PDL and the PDs, likely to save the justice minister in a confidence vote later this week. For Mr Letta, who meets with Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Dublin tomorrow, the Cancellieri issue was far from the only problem to make itself felt yesterday.

The matter of the impending expulsion from parliament of centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi resurfaced when it was decided that the senate will vote on the matter on November 27th. The vote on Mr Berlusconi’s expulsion follows on from his June conviction for tax fraud by his Mediaset TV company.

When the party whips came to decide the date of the vote, they were unable to reach the normal unanimous agreement on the parliamentary calendar. While the M5S protest movement and the far-left SEL party both wanted to anticipate the vote, Mr Berlusconi’s People Of Freedom (PDL) party inevitably opposed this, arguing that the senate should wait until such time as all the constitutional implications of the vote have been fully considered.

In the wake of yesterday’s decision, PDL deputy Raffaele Fitto, leader of the hardline wing of the Berlusconi party, yet again threatened the survival of the Letta government saying: “How can we stay in government with the Democratic Party when they are looking for the expulsion of Berlusconi?”

Just to further complicate matters, Mr Berlusconi yet again appeared to call on state president Giorgio Napolitano to issue some kind of “pardon” when suggesting yesterday that it is not too late for the president to intervene.