The Italian Council of Ministers has decided to dismiss Transport Undersecretary Armando Siri amid allegations that he received a bribe to amend infrastructure regulations.
The decision was announced on Wednesday by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte following a ‘frank discussion’ among government ministers as to whether Siri, who is also a La Lega senator, should be forced to step down while he is under investigation.
His dismissal had been called for by the 5 Star Movement who are governing in coalition with the La Lega, but had been strongly resisted by the latter who have backed Siri and argued he should be allowed to continue in his position on the presumption of innocence.
“It is not our victory but a victory for the Italians,” said Five Star Movement’s Luigi Di Maio at a press conference at the end of the government meeting. “There is no guilty principle, we will always evaluate each case as a political force, but… because we care about the credibility of this government, we could not turn a blind eye”
According to prosecutors, Siri was in discussions to accept more than 30,000 euros in bribes from a businessman to amend government policies to benefit the family’s business interests.
The rule change would have benefited companies close to Vito Nicastri, a former electrician and businessman believed to have close ties with the Cosa Nostra.
Siri has denied the allegations. “I don’t know what it’s about,” he said. “I must first read and understand. I have read names I don’t know.”
The case has caused a split between the two governing parties, with Interior Minister Matteo Salvini of La Lega responded that he had never asked for Five Star politicians, including Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi and other lawmakers, to resign when they were placed under investigation.
Despite these differences Salvini said before Wednesday’s decision that Siri’s dismissal would not cause a crisis in government, however, analysts believe that relations between the two parties could be approaching a breaking point following disagreements on issues ranging from immigration to regional autonomy.
The upcoming European elections on May 26 could be a litmus test for the continued viability of the coalition government. If the results confirm the latest projections that give La Lega a substantial lead over the Five Star Movement, Salvini might be tempted to pull out of the coalition and push for a general election.