ROME (Reuters) - Kazakhstan's ambassador to Rome on Wednesday denied his government had pressured the Italian interior minister to deport the wife and daughter of a dissident oligarch in a case that threatened to bring down the fragile coalition government.
Alma Shalabayeva and her six-year-old daughter were hurriedly deported from Rome in May and flown by private plane to Kazakhstan, an unusually swift deportation that caused a furor over accusations that it was a favor to the leader of the energy-rich country, President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
The government later revoked the expulsion, saying it was abnormal, and severely criticized senior officials who were involved.
The incident has strained relations between the two countries, which have significant economic ties, especially in the energy sector. Italian oil giant Eni has pumped billions of dollars into large Kazakh oil and gas projects.
Interior Minister Angelino Alfano survived an opposition confidence vote last week after officials managed to contain anger in the center-left Democratic Party of Prime Minister Enrico Letta, who leads an uneasy coalition with former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party.
Alfano, Berlusconi's protégé, is secretary of the PDL.
Shalabayeva's husband is Muktar Ablyazov, a former energy minister turned bitter critic of Nazarbayev. He fled Kazakhstan in 2009 after his bank BTA was declared insolvent and nationalized. His whereabouts are unknown.
Asked whether he had pressured Alfano or other politicians to deport the two, ambassador Andrian Yelemessov said in an interview with the daily Il Giornale:
"Absolutely not. I never saw the minister."
He added he had merely passed on Interpol documents about wanted persons to the Interior Ministry.
Alfano, who said he had never been informed of the deportation, ordered a shake-up of his ministry and the police following the scandal. His chief of staff was forced to resign.
(Reporting by Naomi O'Leary; Editing by Barry Moody and Angus MacSwan)