Italian Prosecutors Ask to Drop Pandemic Probe Into Premier Conte
(Bloomberg) -- Rome prosecutors sought permission to drop a probe into Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and members of his cabinet after complaints were filed by several citizens on how the government handled the coronavirus pandemic, according to a note from the premier’s office.
Prosecutors notified the premier and ministers that they are under investigation following complaints from all over the country. Prosecutors also included a note, which specified that they considered the allegations “unfounded” and “to be dismissed,” according to a statement sent by Conte’s office.
The complaints include crimes such as causing an epidemic, offenses against health, manslaughter, abuse of office, and acts against the constitution and political rights, according to the statement.
In Italy, prosecutors are obligated to follow up on criminal complaints made by the public. After a preliminary investigation, they have to go to a judge for permission to drop the case or proceed to a more in-depth probe.
The prosecutors’ request to drop the case will now be reviewed by a judge who will decide whether to accept the dismissal or order a full investigation. In Conte’s case, the decision will be taken by a court that deals specifically with investigations into ministers.
Conte said in a Facebook post that he always acted in Italy’s best interest and based on advice from scientists and experts.
The other officials charged are Justice Minister Alfonso Bonafede, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, Finance Minister Roberto Gualtieri, Defence Minister Lorenzo Guerini, Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese and Health Minister Roberto Speranza.
Italy was among the first countries to be hit by the coronavirus pandemic and to implement a strict lockdown of its population and businesses. The lockdown began in late February in some parts of the North and was later extended to the entire country in early March. Over 35,000 people died in Italy due to coronavirus, about half of them in the Northern part of the country.
Conte has been criticized by political opponents both for not doing enough to stop the spread of coronavirus and for doing too much to limit citizen’s rights with a draconian lockdown measures that paralyzed the economy. While businesses and people are once again free to work and move around, the government recently extended emergency powers until October arguing that coronavirus is still present and can pose a risk to the country.
“Conte should be arrested,” political opponent and League party leader Matteo Salvini said, according to Ansa newswire. “He didn’t close the red zones when it was needed and he closed Italy when he shouldn’t have. That’s a crime.”
Salvini’s attacks potentially pose a threat to political stability in Italy as Conte tries to drag the economy out of its worst recession since World War II with 100 billion euros worth of stimulus measures passed by the cabinet since the start of the pandemic. The European Commission forecasts an 11% contraction of Italian GDP this year, which along with the extra spending will push the country’s debt well over 150% of output.
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