Letta’s Justice Minister Rebuffs Pressure to Quit Over Ligresti

Italian Justice Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri rebuffed calls to resign over the release from prison of a financier and family friend, telling parliament that the discharge was decided independently by judges.

“I never asked the authorities in charge for the release of Mrs. Giulia Ligresti,” Cancellieri, 70, said today in a speech to the Senate in Rome. Ligresti, the former chairman of Premafin Finanziaria SpA, was arrested in July on charges of false accounting and market manipulation. She was granted house arrest in August after officials determined her health was at risk.

The case risks weakening Letta’s three-party coalition. While the most vocal criticism has come from Beppe Grillo’s opposition Five Star Movement, questions about Cancellieri’s behavior have also been posed by lawmakers in Letta’s Democratic Party. Letta confirmed his backing for the justice minister in a Nov. 2 statement.

Lawmakers began questioning Cancellieri’s role in the Ligresti release after la Repubblica reported on Oct. 31 that a phone call between the minister and Ligresti’s mother was intercepted by police in July. Senator Felice Casson of the Democratic Party, in an interview with the newspaper Libero, called on Cancellieri to step aside, saying she had “put herself more or less at the service” of the Ligrestis.

In her Senate speech, Cancellieri was conciliatory to her critics after repeatedly rejecting lapses of judgment in newspaper interviews in recent days. She said her emotions got the best of her in the wiretapped conversation with Ligresti’s mother, Gabriella Fragni.

‘Step Down’

“I am aware that some of the expressions I used in that call could have created doubts about the meaning of my words,” Cancellieri said. “I’m sorry for that.”

Massimo Bitonci, a senator with the opposition Northern League, said today in parliament that the minister took a special interest in the Ligresti case which is unfair to all other people facing jail. “Your speech did not convince us, we are asking you to step down.”

The charges against Ligresti stem from the control once wielded over insurer Fondiaria-SAI SpA by the family through its Premafin investment vehicle. Ligresti, her father, Salvatore Ligresti, and sister, Jonella Ligresti, are accused of misleading at least 12,000 investors by concealing 600 million euros ($810 million) of losses at Fondiaria-SAI in its 2010 accounts, Italy’s financial police said in a July statement.

Minister Son

The ties between the minister’s family and the Ligrestis were amplified in 2011 when Cancellieri’s son Piergiorgio Peluso was hired by Fondiaria-SAI as general manager. Peluso, who left the insurer in September of last year, got that job on merit, Cancellieri said.

Peluso, a former investment banker at UniCredit SpA, is now chief financial officer at Telecom Italia SpA.

Unipol Gruppo Finanziario SpA is in the process of taking over Fondiaria, Premafin and Milano Assicurazioni to become Italy’s second-biggest insurer. Giulia Ligresti was granted house arrest because of her health conditions and following her guilty plea request, Turin Chief Prosecutor Giancarlo Caselli said on SkyTG24 Nov. 1.

Cancellieri was scheduled to speak in the Chamber of Deputies at 5:30 p.m. Five Star, the biggest opposition party, has said it will push for a no confidence vote on Cancellieri.

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