Italy’s PM intervenes as corruption case threatens coalition

Giuseppe Conte tells transport minister Armando Siri to step down over graft allegations

Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte, who has told transport minister Armando Siri to  stand down over allegations of graft. Photograph: Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters

Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte, who has told transport minister Armando Siri to stand down over allegations of graft. Photograph: Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters

 

Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte has intervened in a corruption scandal that has threatened to split the country’s populist coalition.

Mr Conte said that Armando Siri, a transport minister in the coalition government from Matteo Salvini’s League, must stand down over allegations of graft.

The fate of Mr Siri, who has been accused of taking bribes in return for pushing renewable energy policies, has become a point of conflict between Mr Salvini and Luigi Di Maio, leader of his coalition partner, the Five Star Movement.

Mr Siri has denied the allegations.

Mr Conte’s intervention comes as the League and Five Star prepare to run against each other in this month’s European elections in a vote that is widely expected to confirm polling numbers that show Mr Salvini’s party has overtaken its rival as the largest party in the coalition government.

With the European vote potentially reversing the balance of power within the coalition there has been speculation in Italy that it could serve as a catalyst for Mr Salvini to dissolve his alliance with the Five Star Movemnet, although the leaders of both parties have continued to commit to the so-called “government of change”.

Mr Salvini had argued that Mr Siri, an undersecretary for transport, should not step down until the allegations against him were substantiated, while Mr Di Maio, whose party in the past has demanded all politicians under investigation should leave office, had called for his resignation.

On Thursday night, Mr Conte told both parties to settle their differences over the case, saying the League should accept his decision and Five Star should “not take advantage of this solution to sing a political victory”.

The prime minister’s decision to take action over the corruption allegations will bolster his standing as a stabilising intermediary between the ruling coalition parties.

Before being asked to serve as prime minister in the Five Star-League coalition after last year’s general election, Mr Conte was a law professor, unknown in Italian politics.

While he is still viewed as a figurehead, with real political power being wielded by the two party leaders, he has increasingly served the role as a moderate communicator for the government in its dealings with foreign allies and Brussels.

Before Mr Conte announced his decision, Mr Siri had said he would resign voluntarily if the investigation against him was not dropped within two weeks.

Mr Di Maio said that the government could move forward now that the issue had been dealt with. “I don’t rejoice and I don’t think it’s a victory,” he said. “Having said that, I am happy that the government can now move forward because the Siri case is over”. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019