By Angelo Amante and Crispian Balmer
ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s coalition partners clashed angrily on Friday over mutual allegations of corruption, with relations between the League and 5-Star Movement at their lowest ebb since they formed a government last May.
The anti-establishment 5-Star accused its far-right ally of threatening to bring down the government. The League angrily denied the charge, but party sources acknowledged the row was taking a heavy toll on their partnership.
The coalition was thrown into turmoil on Thursday when Armando Siri, an economic adviser to League leader Matteo Salvini, was placed under investigation for allegedly accepting bribes to promote the interests of renewable energy companies.
Siri, who serves as an undersecretary in the transport ministry, denied the accusations, but when news of the probe leaked, Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, who is a 5-Star member, stripped him of his government responsibilities.
The unilateral move angered the League and led to furious recriminations between the two parties, highlighting how their relations are deteriorating in the run-up to next month’s European Union parliamentary election.
“…Even today the League is threatening to bring down the government … I’m really stunned,” 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio wrote on Facebook.
In comments that further inflamed tensions, Di Maio said his party had seen Siri in the past trying to introduce measures that were “a bit controversial”.
“We remember them. When they landed on our desk they seemed strange and we stopped them. … Without us, who knows what would have happened,” Di Maio wrote, without giving any details.
While Siri made no immediate comment, Salvini responded with a brief, sharply worded statement.
“The League wants to govern well and for a long time in the interests of Italians. Thoughts of a government crisis can only to be found in Di Maio’s head,” he said.
The two parties forged an unexpected alliance last May following an inconclusive national vote. While they govern together, they remain bitter ballot-box adversaries and tensions between the two have always risen ahead of any elections.
However, party sources said the latest blowout was the worst yet, with the League seething over the decision to strip Siri of his government powers until the graft probe is concluded.
“The atmosphere between us has never been so bad,” a senior League source said.
Siri is suspected of receiving a 30,000-euro (£25,952) bribe to promote legislation that favoured certain businessmen. In the end, the measures under question were never approved.
On the same day the bribe accusations emerged, allegations of wrongdoing also surfaced against the 5-Star mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, with L’Espresso news magazine releasing what it said were recordings of her urging the head of the city rubbish-collection firm to alter its accounts.
Raggi issued a statement denying any illegal actions, but the League leapt on the affair to accuse 5-Star of hypocrisy.
“Salvini isn’t the only one who is fed up with 5-Star. We are all fed up with them,” the League’s deputy transport minister, Edoardo Rixi, told la Repubblica newspaper.
(Reporting by Angelo Amante; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Mark Potter)