Italy spokesman threatens treasury staff over cash for election promises

A recording has emerged of the Italian government's chief spokesman threatening to "eliminate a tide" of treasury officials unless they find the money for projects, including a basic income grant, promised in March elections.

Italy spokesman threatens treasury staff over cash for election promises
Italy's government spokesman Rocco Casalino. Photo: AFP

The recording, made by two Huffington Post journalists and widely distributed by Italian media on Sunday, threatens to embarrass the populist government just days before it is due to present an annual budget.

Spokesman Rocco Casalino, aligned to the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), warns on tape of a “mega-vendetta” against finance ministry functionaries “if they do not find the money”.

“The year 2019 will be dedicated to eliminating a tide of members of the finance ministry. The knives will be out,” he can be heard saying.

Casalino, spokesman for the government of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, said on Sunday the recording was made during a “private conversation” with the journalists, and complained of a “violation of confidentiality” — a charge the Huffington Post rejected.

Italy's government — made up of an alliance between the populist M5S and nationalist League — made a series of costly pledges in a joint government programme they said would be financed by economic growth.

The promises, including significant tax cuts combined with a basic income for the unemployed and those living on low wages, have been estimated to require as much as 100 billion euros ($117 billion) while Italy's public debt stands at 132 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

In July, the country's growth forecasts were revised downwards, a potential roadblock to keeping the election promises.

Earlier this week, EU commissioner for economic affairs, Pierre Moscovici, said Italy must present a “credible” budget for the coming year, and described the anti-establishment government in Rome as a “problem”.

READ ALSO: EU urges Italy to stick to 'sensible' budget as Rome pledges anti-austerity spending spree

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Berlusconi to run for Senate in Italy’s elections

Scandal-plagued former premier Silvio Berlusconi said he plans to return to Italy's parliament in upcoming elections, almost a decade after being forced out over a conviction for tax fraud.

Berlusconi to run for Senate in Italy's elections

“I think that, in the end, I will be present myself as a candidate for the Senate, so that all these people who asked me will finally be happy,” the 85-year-old billionaire and media mogul told Rai radio on Wednesday.

After helping bring down Prime Minister Mario Draghi last month by withdrawing its support, Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party looks set to return to power in elections on September 25th.

It is part of a right-wing coalition led by Giorgia Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy, which includes Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League.

Berlusconi brushed off reports he is worried about the possibility of Meloni – whose motto is “God, country and family” – becoming prime minister.

Noting the agreement between the parties that whoever wins the most votes chooses the prime minister, he said: “If it is Giorgia, I am sure she will prove capable of the difficult task.”

READ ALSO: Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

But he urged voters to back his party as the moderate voice in the coalition, emphasising its European, Atlanticist stance.

“Every extra vote in Forza Italia will strengthen the moderate, centrist profile of the coalition,” he said in a separate interview published Wednesday in the Il Giornale newspaper.

League party leader Matteo Salvini (L), Fratelli d’Italia leader Giorgia Meloni and Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi pictured in October 2021. The trio look set to take power following snap elections in September. Photo by CLAUDIO PERI / ANSA / AFP

Berlusconi was Italy’s prime minister three times in the 1990s and 2000s, but has dominated public life for far longer as head of a vast media and sports empire.

The Senate expelled him in November 2013 following his conviction for tax fraud, and he was banned from taking part in a general election for six years.

He was elected to the European Parliament in 2019, however, and threw his hat in the ring earlier this year to become Italy’s president — although his candidacy was predictably short-lived.

Berlusconi remains a hugely controversial figure  in Italy and embroiled in the many legal wrangles that have characterised his long career.

He remains on trial for allegedly paying guests to lie about his notorious “bunga-bunga” sex parties while prime minister.

Berlusconi has also suffered a string of health issues, some related to his hospitalisation for coronavirus in September 2020, after which he said he had almost died.