MILAN (Reuters) – Italy’s Benetton family, in a letter to media, said it had played no role in running a motorway bridge that collapsed last year killing 43 people, and asked politicians such as 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio to halt their “hate campaign.”
The Benettons are the biggest investor in infrastructure group Atlantia, owner of Autostrade per l’Italia which operates the motorway in Genoa where the viaduct gave way.
“I want to clarify a big misunderstanding: no member of our family has ever run Autostrade,” Luciano Benetton, 84, who has taken back the reins of the family businesses, wrote in the letter published in full by la Repubblica daily on Sunday.
“We certainly acknowledge our share of responsibility in backing a management who turned out to be inadequate, a management that had full powers and complete confidence from shareholders,” he said.
The Benetton family has come under heavy attack following the disaster in August 2018 and the ruling 5-Star Movement has called for Autostrade to be stripped of its motorway concession.
“I’m not looking for leniency for Autostrade, mistakes must be paid for, but I find unacceptable the hate campaign against our family, with instant accusations that keep arriving strenuously from government members such as Di Maio,” Luciano Benetton added in the letter.
The Benettons waited a year before forcing a change of the guard at Atlantia and powerful CEO Luigi Castellucci only left in September.
In a post on Facebook on Sunday, Di Maio, who is also Italy’s foreign minister, said 5-Star and the government would push ahead with revoking Atlantia’s motorway concession.
“I read a surreal letter by Luciano Benetton where he distances himself from Autostrade. Can you believe it? It’s ridiculous,” Di Maio said.
Prosecutors investigating the Genoa tragedy have uncovered documents that highlighted as early as 2014 the risk the bridge might collapse. They are also pursuing a second line of inquiry into alleged falsification of safety reports on other motorway bridges operated by Autostrade.
Autostrade says it has always maintained a rigorous approach to risk management and adopted all appropriate preventative measures.
Luciano Benetton said the family was not looking to make excuses.
“It looks like Autostrade’s organisation was not up to the task, necessary controls were not maintained on all aspects of such a complex system. A structure is made up of people and a rotten apple can hide anywhere,” he said in the letter.
(Reporting by Valentina Za; Editing by Susan Fenton)