Infrastructure and transport undersecretary Armando Siri, a member of coalition partner the League, is alleged to have accepted a €30,000 bribe — or the promise of it — from a businessman for promoting the interests of renewable energy companies.
Prosecutors also suspect the businessman of being in league with a Sicilian who has links to a Mafia boss.
Salvini, who is head of the anti-immigrant League party and deputy prime minister, had repeatedly insisted his ally Siri has done nothing wrong and should stay in his job.
“There was a very frank and inhabitual cabinet discussion… but without citizens' trust, it would be hard to keep being the government of change,” Conte told journalists.
“Today the cabinet decided, as proposed by the prime minister, to start the procedure to revoke secretary of state Armando Siri,” co-deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio said after the cabinet meeting.
“Not because he's guilty but simply because for us, if a corruption and mafia investigation is mentioned, [then] the political world must react before the judges do,” said Di Maio, who heads the Five Star Movement (M5S).
The M5S, which made “honesty” a keyword of its political campaign before being elected last year, had demanded Siri resign. Premier Conte had on Thursday said Siri should resign, but the latter had refused, with Salvini's backing.
The head of the Five Star Movement, Luigi Di Maio. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
“Today this is a victory for Italians, the honest Italians who represent the vast majority of the population and who demand firmness in a country where corruption is a national emergency,” said Di Maio.
A visibly disappointed Salvini told journalists after the cabinet meeting that “trials are done by courts.” Italy is home to “60 million people who are innocent until proven guilty”, he said.
Italian politicians including tycoon and former premier Silvio Berlusconi have in the past used drawn-out court cases and the presumption of innocence to shield themselves from allegations of wrongdoing.
Salvini's League is hoping to progress in European parliament elections on May 26th and wants to keep its increasingly fragile ruling coalition intact until then, at least.