Former Italian prime minister and Partito Democratico (PD) leader Matteo Renzi, who for the past three years has been consistently portrayed as Italy’s best hope in times of austerity, could yet be overwhelmed by a €2.7 billion public contracts scandal involving his father, Tiziano.
This latest controversy may prove to be an even bigger political setback than the one that forced Mr Renzi’s resignation last December, following a resounding defeat in a constitutional reform referendum.
Since that defeat, the PD party has been lacerated by an internal division which last week became a split, with senior figures such as ex-prime minister Massimo D'Alema and former party leaders Pierluigi Bersani and Guglielmo Epifani leaving the party
Essentially, his party critics have been dissastisfied at the manner in which Mr Renzi has handled the post-referendum period. Furthermore, they argue that his move to the mainstream centre as well as the economic, labour, health and educational policies promoted by his three-year government have cost his party millions of voters.
As he attempts to copperfasten his control of the PDs by again running for leadership in a “primary” vote due at the end of next month, Mr Renzi could yet be blocked by the “Consip” scandal in which his father is under investigation on suspicion of “trafficking in influence” in relation to the designation of €2.7 billion of public contracts.
Consip (Concessionaria Servizi Informativi Pubblici) is a sort of "quartermaster general's" office for all the goods and services required by the entire Italian public administration. Hence, the size of public contracts put out to tender.
On Wednesday, Neapolitan tycoon Alfredo Romeo was arrested on charges of corruption within the ambit of an investigation into Consip which also involves not only Tiziano Renzi but also senior police figures and the current minister for sport Luca Lotti. Mr Lotti is arguably Matteo Renzi's closest political confidant as well as being a member of both Mr Renzi's former government and the current one headed by Paolo Gentiloni.
Tiziano Renzi is accused of using his influence, through his prime minister son, to try to direct €600 million worth of Consip contracts to companies controlled by Mr Romeo.
At no stage does Matteo Renzi appear to be involved in the investigation. The former prime minister has gone so far as to say that if his father is eventually found guilty of corruption, then he should receive a “double” sentence.
However, a number of close associates, including his father, Mr Lotti and Roberto Bargilli, a man who in the past has acted as his private driver, clearly are involved.
A further potential embarrassment for Mr Renzi is the fact that along with two senior police officers, Mr Lotti is under investigation for having tipped off the managing director of Consip, Alessandro Marroni, that his phone was being tapped within the ambit of a judicial investigation. On top of that, Filippo Vannoni, another close friend of Mr Renzi and the head of Florence’s water authority, Publiacqua, has told investigators that Mr Renzi knew about the investigation.
For the time being, the political fallout of all this remains potentially dramatic. For a start, opposition forces such as the Five Star protest Movement (M5S) have tabled a parliamentary “no confidence” motion against Mr Lotti, which could yet threaten the survival of the government.