Why is Italian PM Conte being accused of a conflict of interest?

Why is Italian PM Conte being accused of a conflict of interest?
Italian PM Giuseppe Conte has denied accusations of conflict of interest. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has denied accusations of conflict of interest after reports linked him to an allegedly corrupt investment fund now being investigated by the Vatican.

Conte's office stated on Monday that he “only gave a legal opinion” when advising the investment fund in question before he became Prime Minister in 2018.

Lawyer Conte did not know the deal he'd advised on was linked to a Vatican-backed investment fund that is now under investigation for possible corruption, his office said.

Conte was hired in May 2018 to provide a legal opinion in favour of Fiber 4.0, a shareholder group involved in a fight for control of telecoms company Retelit, according to a report in the UK's Financial Times on Monday.

The lead investor in Fiber 4.0 was Athena Global Opportunities, funded entirely by $200 million from the Vatican Secretariat, the FT wrote.

The British newspaper linked the story of Conte advising on the deal, which has long been reported in the Italian press, to an ongoing Vatican financial investigation.

The internal probe at the Vatican is said to be centred on an Athena property deal in London.

So far it has resulted in the suspension of five employees and the resignation of the pope's chief of security.

The prime minister has faced accusations of a conflict of interest over the Retelit deal, after issuing a decree based on Italy's “golden powers” laws that favoured Fiber 4.0 shortly after coming to power.

Photo: AFP

“There is no conflict of interest,” the prime minister's office stated.

“Conte only gave a legal opinion and was not aware of, and not required to know that, some investors were linked to an investment fund supported by the Vatican and now at the centre of an investigation,” the PM's office said.

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Conte, who was a virtual unknown when he was selected to form his first government in June 2018, had been charged with drawing up a legal opinion on the government's possible use of golden powers.

“Of course, at that time no-one could have imagined that, a few weeks later, a government chaired by the same Conte would be called to rule on that precise issue,” it said in a statement.

“To avoid any possible conflict of interest, Prime Minister Conte formally abstained from any decision on the exercise of golden power,” it added.

The “golden powers” allow the government to block foreign control of companies deemed to be of strategic national importance.

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