Renzi's Return Clouded By Probe Into Father, Government Minister

  • Italian former prime minister seeks to regain party control
  • Renzi’s father, sports minister Luca Lotti deny wrongdoing

Matteo Renzi’s comeback risks being undermined by a judicial investigation into the father of the Italian former prime minister and a government minister.

Rome prosecutors on Friday were due to question Tiziano Renzi, 65, over an accusation of influence-peddling, his lawyer said. The elder Renzi is alleged to have obtained promises of monthly sums of money from Alfredo Romeo, a Naples entrepreneur, in return for mediating on his behalf for public works contracts, Italian news agency Ansa reported. The ex-premier’s father has denied any wrongdoing.

Matteo Renzi

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Matteo Renzi, who will fight for his re-election as leader of the Democratic Party on April 30, has been weakened by defeat in a December constitutional referendum which led to his resignation as premier. His party has split with rivals challenging him for the leadership, and leftist dissidents abandoning it. The government of Premier Paolo Gentiloni, a Renzi ally and Democratic Party member, now rests on a more fragile parliamentary majority.

‘Most Critical Moment’

“If the investigation goes ahead, it will surely hurt Matteo Renzi’s prospects even if he has nothing to do with it,” said Sergio Fabbrini, director of the school of government at Luiss University in Rome. “This is the most critical moment of his political career, he has to find a new strategy.”

Tiziano Renzi’s lawyer Federico Bagattini said in a telephone interview that his client had done nothing illicit. “We deny that he ever asked for anything, that he ever promised he would intervene, and that he ever received any money or any other benefit,” Bagattini said. Tiziano Renzi said Thursday he had nothing to hide. “I have never asked for money. I never took any. Never,” he said in a statement reported by Ansa.

Romeo, who was arrested earlier this week, is accused of corruption in the case, his lawyer Alfredo Sorge said in a phone interview. “My client is absolutely innocent, we will contest all the accusations,” Sorge said.

The office of Rome prosecutor Paolo Ielo did not reply to an emailed request for comment from Bloomberg. A spokesman for Matteo Renzi, 42, declined to comment in reply to a text message. The ex-premier is not under investigation.

Five Star

The anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which has made denunciations of political corruption one of its main platforms, has seized on the case. It submitted on Thursday a parliamentary vote of no confidence against Sports Minister Luca Lotti, a close ally of Matteo Renzi, which will test the government’s majority.

Lotti is also under investigation in the case for allegedly revealing confidential information, according to Italian news media, a charge he denied in a post on Facebook on Thursday. Five Star “talks of kick-backs, arrests, contracts -- all things which I have nothing to do with,” Lotti wrote. The office of Franco Coppi, Lotti’s lawyer, did not respond to an emailed request for comment on Friday.

The case is “an atomic bomb on Italian politics,” Five Star co-founder Beppe Grillo, who wants a referendum on Italy’s membership of the euro, wrote on his blog. “When it explodes, no one will be able to find shelter. Today more than ever we need honesty in institutions.”

With elections due by early 2018, Five Star has 27.1 percent support against 26.9 percent for the Democratic Party, according to an opinion poll by the Ixe Institute for RAI state television published on Friday. The anti-immigrant Northern League has 12.8 percent, while the Forza Italia party of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi has 12.7 percent.

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