Mayor of Venice arrested in bribery inquiry

Over 30 arrested as part of corruption investigation linked to Moses flood barrier

Mayor Giorgio Orsoni was placed under house arrest yesterday as 300 officers carried out raids to seize €40m in assets. Photograph: AP

Mayor Giorgio Orsoni was placed under house arrest yesterday as 300 officers carried out raids to seize €40m in assets. Photograph: AP

Thu, Jun 5, 2014, 01:00

The mayor of Venice and 35 other people have been arrested as part of a corruption investigation linked to the Moses flood barrier – Italy’s daring plan to protect Venice from rising waters.

Mayor Giorgio Orsoni was placed under house arrest yesterday as 300 officers carried out raids to seize €40m in assets, after a three-year investigation by magistrates, who allege contractors created a €25m slush fund for kickbacks to politicians overseeing the work.

Investigators also requested the arrest of Giancarlo Galan, the former governor of the Veneto region, who is accused of taking bribes and having a property refurbished for free by a contractor. The arrest of Mr Galan, now a senator in Rome, must be approved by the Italian parliament.

Investigators said they followed a complex cash trail between companies and politicians that passed through the tiny state of San Marino as well as overseas banks.

Launched in 2003 and due for completion in 2016, the €5.5bn Moses project will protect Venice from the ever more frequent high waters that leave St Mark’s Square knee-deep in water and force tourists and residents to walk on raised wooden platforms.

Some 191 high-water incidents, measuring 110cm or more, hit Venice between 1966 and 2010, up from 21 between 1926 and 1965 because of stronger winds and extreme weather in the Mediterranean as it heats up due to climate change. Making matters worse, Venice has sunk by 23cm over the last century. The ambitious plan sees 78 flood barriers set up at entry points into the lagoon. Normally sitting on the sea floor filled with water, the barriers can be pumped full of compressed air to raise them in high waters.

A lawyer representing Mr Orsoni said the allegations that he had received illegal campaign financing from firms working on the project were “hardly credible”, but a former Venice mayor, Massimo Cacciari, said there was little accountability on the project. “I said it a million times but no one listened,” he said. – (Guardian service)