Berlusconi, Renzi attack anti-corruption populists in row on pay

Tuesday , February 13, 2018 - 8:05 AM

John Follain

(c) 2018, Bloomberg.

Ex-premiers Silvio Berlusconi and Matteo Renzi mocked a pledge by the anti-establishment Five Star Movement to clean up Italian politics if it wins next month’s election, amid allegations that some of its lawmakers disregarded the party’s ethics code.

Berlusconi, 81, who is banned from holding public office because of a 2013 tax-fraud conviction, repeated a Five Star slogan when he was asked about the affair after meeting business leaders in Rome on Tuesday. “Honesty, honesty ...” the media mogul jibed.

“Many of our party officials have been mocked by Five Star saying, ‘We are honest, only we are honest."‘ Renzi, leader of the center-left Democratic Party, told foreign reporters in Rome. “That’s not true. Five Star has honest people and fraudsters, like all the other parties.”

With Renzi’s Democrats trailing Five Star in surveys ahead of the March 4 vote, the anti-establishment movement has been buffeted by an Italia Uno television network report that at least 10 of its lawmakers faked reimbursements of their parliamentary salaries demanded under a “code of behavior.” Polls suggest a potential center-right coalition led by Berlusconi would have the most votes, though a hung parliament is the most likely outcome.

Under Five Star’s code, its parliamentarians are obliged to forgo about half their gross monthly salary, about 5,000 euros ($6,200). That amount, as well as unspent expense allowances, must go to a fund managed by the Economic Development Ministry for loans to small and medium-sized private companies. Corriere della Sera newspaper reported Tuesday that the total shortfall in reimbursements was 1.4 million euros.

“Some lawmakers have violated our rules and did not donate everything they should have done,” Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio, 31, wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday. “It’s a betrayal of our principles and of the trust of our members. For that reason they will be expelled from the Movement and they have committed to withdraw from the election.”

Di Maio, deputy-speaker of the lower house, said he had given back or refused more than 370,000 euros over five years. Five Star is investigating the allegations, and no money was taken away from taxpayers, a spokeswoman for the party said Tuesday.

Five Star has railed against political corruption since its founding by Beppe Grillo, a comic, and Gianroberto Casaleggio, a web strategist, in 2009. Only Five Star “is credible when we say we’ll cut the pensions, wages and privileges of the political class, because we’ve done it already,” Di Maio said in December.

Five Star’s elected officials, including European lawmakers, have saved Italians about 90 million euros, including campaign funds it declined to claim for the 2013 general election, Di Maio said at the time.

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