Italy’s ‘anti-corruption’ Five Star Movement embroiled in money scandal over missing €1 million

Italy's anti-establishment Five Star Movement is embroiled in a money scandal that could threaten its standing as favourite in elections early next month after campaigning on an anti-corruption platform.

Italy's 'anti-corruption' Five Star Movement embroiled in money scandal over missing €1 million
Party leader Luigi Di Maio speaks during a Five Star Movement rally. Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP

Around ten M5S lawmakers have been accused of reneging on an obligation to pay half their salaries into a fund for small and medium-sized businesses.

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Party leader and potential future prime minister Luigi Di Maio, 31, has vowed to “root out bad apples” in the party, which has enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity ahead of the March 4th polls. The party has campaigned on eradicating the scourge of corruption from Italian politics.

Media reports say the entrepreneur fund is short by more than 1.0 million euros ($1.2 million), if Five Star MEPs are included in the calculations. The MPs in question reportedly used a ruse by which their transfers of money into the fund showed up on a website created for transparency — only to cancel the transfers within 24 hours.

Following the revelations, Di Maio said he had asked two MPs who admitted their “mistake”, to repay the money, and to step down if they are reelected.

But he said: “In a normal country the news would be that the Five Star Movement has donated 23.1 million euros from their salaries, money that has helped to launch 7,000 companies and employ 14,000 workers.”

Former leftist prime minster Matteo Renzi, who is vying to regain the top spot, was quick to criticize the movement on Tuesday.

“Many of us have been laughed at, made to look like a laughing stock on social networks by the Five Star Movement. They said: 'We are honest, we are the only honest ones',” Renzi said. “This is not the case. The Five Star Movement is like all the others.”

Although M5S is the leading single party in voter surveys, the polls indicate that a coalition between the centre-right opposition Forza Italia party and far-right, anti-immigrant groups could end up in government.

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Fuel tax cut and help with energy bills: Italy approves inflation aid package

Italy on Thursday night approved new measures worth around 17 billion euros ($17.4 billion) to help families and businesses manage the surging cost of fuel and essentials.

Fuel tax cut and help with energy bills: Italy approves inflation aid package

As expected, the final version of the ‘aiuti-bis‘ decree provides another extension to the existing 30-cents-per-litre cut to fuel duty, more help with energy bills, and a tax cut for workers earning under 35,000 euros a year.

The package also includes further funding for mental health treatment: there’s another 15 million euros for the recently-introduced ‘psychologist bonus’ on top of the 10 million previously allocated.

There are also measures to help agricultural firms deal with this year’s severe drought.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi described the new package as an intervention “of incredible proportions”, which corresponds to “a little over 2 points of national GDP”.

However, he said, no changes were made to the national budget to pave the way for the new measures.

READ ALSO: Is Italy really giving all employees a ‘pay rise’ from August?

The measures will be funded with 14.3 billion euros in higher-than-expected tax revenues this year, and the deployment of funds that have not yet been spent, Economy and Finance Minister Daniele Franco said.

Italy has already budgeted some 35 billion euros since January to soften the impact of rising fuel costs.

The decree is one of the last major acts by outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi before an early general election next month.

Elections are set for September 25th but the former European Central Bank chief is staying on in a caretaker role until a new government is formed.

Draghi said the Italian economy was performing better than expected, citing the International Monetary Fund’s estimate of three percent for 2022.

“They say that in 2022, we will grow more than Germany, than France, than the average of the eurozone, more than the United States,” he told a press conference.

But he noted the many problems facing Italy, “from the high cost of living, to inflation, the rise in energy prices and other materials, to supply difficulties, widespread insecurity and, of course political insecurity”.

Inflation hit 8 percent in Italy in June – the most severe spike the country has experienced since 1976.