Italy government puts scandal-hit Rome on tight leash

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 27, 2015 10:50 AM

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's government said on Thursday it would put Rome city hall under close supervision following allegations it had fallen under the sway of organized crime, but allowed the beleaguered mayor to stay in office.

A scandal dubbed "Mafia Capital" has rocked Rome this year, laying bare suspicions of rampant corruption that helped explain the shabby state of city streets and the dire state of municipal accounts.

Rome's many problems have caused particular concern given the looming Roman Catholic Church Holy Year, which kicks off in December and is expected to bring some 30 million pilgrims into Italy's ill-prepared capital city over the following 12 months.

After weeks of deliberation, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's cabinet decided that only one of Rome's 15 districts, covering the seaside Ostia neighborhood, should be put under direct government control because of alleged mafia infiltration.

The rest of the city will remain under the control of mayor Ignazio Marino, who has not himself come under investigation for any wrongdoing, but has faced widespread criticism for failing to stamp his authority on a flailing local bureaucracy.

However, Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said that the government representative in Rome, the city prefect, would from now on work alongside the mayor to guarantee the smooth running of key services, including the awarding of public contracts.

"I have informed the cabinet that I intend to empower the prefect of Rome so that he can oversee projects and planning with the mayor in eight especially delicate areas," he said.

The government also placed oversight for the forthcoming Holy Year directly into the hands of prefect Franco Gabrielli, effectively shunting the mayor onto the sidelines for the high-profile, year-long event.

There was no immediate comment from Marino, who has vanished from the public eye in recent weeks, taking a break in the Caribbean to write his memoirs.

Marino is a former liver-transplant surgeon and a member of Renzi's center-left Democratic Party. Last month he conceded that much of the city administration was "substantially rotten", but said he was working hard to overcome the crisis.

His apparent inability to overcome the scandals has clearly frustrated Renzi, but government officials decided this was not a sufficient reason to take the unprecedented step of seizing all the reins of power from the city authorities.

The trial of 59 defendants caught up in the Mafia Capital scandal is due to start on Nov. 5.

Prosecutors allege that an organized crime network corrupted an entire generation of city administrators, with both left and right-wing politicians caught up in the sleaze.

(Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Gareth Jones)