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Italian ex-PM Renzi to face trial over political funding

Former Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi protested his innocence on Thursday as he faces trial over the alleged illegal financing of his meteoric rise to power.

Italian ex-PM Renzi to face trial over political funding
Matteo Renzi, a former Italian prime minister and current leader of the Italia Viva party. Photo: Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

A total of 11 people face charges as part of an investigation into the alleged irregularities in the funding of Open, a group that backed Renzi’s political activities.

Renzi, a former mayor of Florence, accused prosecutors in the Tuscan city of abusing their power during their probe, which has dragged on for years and which he insists will “draw a blank”.

“I am innocent,” the 47-year-old told Radio Leopolda.

 A pre-trial hearing has been set for April 4th, and a judge will decide whether there is enough evidence to proceed to a full trial.

PROFILE: Who is Matteo Renzi, the ‘wrecker’ of Italian politics?

The probe, which began in 2019, followed allegations money from the Open foundation was illegally used by Renzi during his rise from mayor to head of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) before becoming prime minister in 2014.

Prosecutors argue Renzi was the de facto director of Open, which received 3.5 million euros from wealthy backers – money he and allies spent on political activities.

One such expense was the chartering by Renzi in 2018 of a jet for 135,000 euros – paid for by Open – to get him to a Robert Kennedy memorial service in the US, according to Repubblica, which cited prosecution documents.

The probe also targets another 10 people including two ex-ministers close to Renzi, plus four companies, one of which is British American Tobacco Italia.

Renzi stands accused of the crime of illegal financing of political parties, along with former president of Open, Alberto Bianchi, and ex-ministers Maria Elena Boschi and Luca Lotti.

Among the alleged crimes are illegal party financing, corruption, money laundering and trafficking of influence.

Former Italian prime minister and leader of the Democratic Party (PD) Matteo Renzi in 2018. Photo: Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Renzi, now leader of the centrist Italia Viva party, accused the prosecutors of a “hate campaign” against him and his family.

“They’ve got the wrong man. I’m not afraid. I want truth and justice,” he said.

Renzi is nicknamed “il rottamatore” (the wrecker) – some say due to his habit of bringing down coalition governments, including his own in 2016.

At the age of 39, he became Italy’s youngest-ever prime minister since Benito Mussolini. But his centrist policies and increasingly arrogant style antagonised trade unions as well as the broader public.

He led a referendum campaign for constitutional reforms in 2016, but it turned into a plebiscite against him and when he lost, he was forced to quit.

Renzi later broke with the PD and founded the small Italia Viva, which is part of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s national unity government.

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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

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

An Italian centre-left election pact broke down on Sunday just days after it was formed, leaving the path to power clear for the hard-right coalition.

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

The alliance between Italian centre-left parties was left in disarray on Sunday night, potentially meaning a landslide victory for the hard-right coalition at early general elections in September.

The leader of the centrist Azione party withdrew support for the left-wing coalition led by the Democratic Party (PD) just five days after the two joined forces, saying it could not work with left-wingers brought in to boost the alliance.

Carlo Calenda, leader of Azione, withdrew his support on Sunday after PD made another pact with smaller left-wing parties including the radical Sinistra Italiana, and new green party Europa Verde.

“You cannot explain (to voters) that to defend the constitution you make a pact with people you know you will never govern with,” Calenda told newspaper Corriere della Sera.

The news was greeted with jubilation by hard-right League leader Matteo Salvini, who tweeted: “On the left chaos and everyone against everyone!”

Giorgia Meloni, leader of the neofascist Brothers of Italy party (FdI) mocked a “new twist in the soap opera of the centre-left.”

READ ALSO: Italy to choose ‘Europe or nationalism’ at election, says PD leader

Analyists predict the centre-left split could hand the right-wing bloc a landslide victory at the election on September 25th, with Meloni tipped to become Italy’s first female prime minister.

Italy’s political system favours coalitions, and while Meloni has a strong alliance with Salvini’s League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, Letta is struggling to bring together the disparate  progressive parties.

The PD is neck and neck with Brothers of Italy in the latest opinion polls, but even in partnership with Azione, the group most recently polled at 33.6 percent, compared with 46.4 percent for the right.

Political commentators said the only hope PD has now of posing a credible threat to the right-wing alliance would be by partnering with the Five Star Movement.

READ ALSO: Why has Italy’s government collapsed in the middle of summer?

However, Letta has repeatedly said this is out of the question, as he blames M5S for triggering the political crisis that brought down Mario Draghi’s broad coalition government.

“Either PD eats its hat and seeks alliance with M5S to defeat the right-wing coalition, or it’s hard to see how the right can possibly lose the forthcoming election,” Dr Daniele Albertazzi, a politics professor at the University of Surrey in England, tweeted on Sunday.

Early elections were called after Draghi resigned in late July. His government currently remains in place in a caretaker role.

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