Italy justice minister faces calls to quit over influence allegations

Sat Nov 2, 2013 10:17am EDT

* Minister accused of getting family friend out of jail

* Opposition 5-Star Movement to present no-confidence motion

* Minister to address parliament on Tuesday

By Steve Scherer

ROME, Nov 2 (Reuters) - Italian Justice Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri faced calls to resign on Saturday over accusations she used her influence to get the ailing daughter of a former insurance magnate out of prison.

The loss of an influential minister could further destabilise Prime Minister Enrico Letta's fragile right-left coalition, where tensions are already running high ahead of a vote to expel centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi from parliament later this month over his conviction for tax fraud.

The opposition 5-Star Movement said on Friday it would present a no-confidence motion against Cancellieri and the Democratic Party (PD), the largest bloc supporting the government, called on her to address parliament on the matter.

Cancellieri stood firm against the resignation demands.

"I made a humanitarian intervention based on the possibility that an inmate could have died," Cancellieri told RAI state TV on Saturday after admitting earlier this week she urged prison authorities to ascertain the health of Giulia Ligresti, insurance mogul Salvatore Ligesti's oldest daughter.

Cancellieri will testify before the two houses of parliament on Tuesday, a spokesman said.

The scandal erupted on Thursday when la Repubblica newspaper printed the transcript of a tapped phone call between the justice minister and the wife of Ligresti on the day he was arrested along with his two daughters and ex-company managers.

"You can count on me," Cancellieri said according to a transcript of the call seen by Reuters. The recording was made as part of a Turin court investigation into false accounting and market manipulation at insurer Fondiaria-SAI, which the Ligresti family controlled until last year.

On Aug. 28, after several calls from the Ligresti family to the minister in which they voiced their concern for Giulia's health, she was freed from prison and put under house arrest.

The Turin court said on Friday that the minister's actions had no influence on her release from prison. Instead, the court said, she was let go after a medical examination found her continued imprisonment would have been a "danger" to her health, and after she agreed to accept a plea bargain.

But her long friendship with the Ligresti family and the fact Cancellieri's son, Piergiorgio Peluso, earned several million euros as an executive at Fondiaria-SAI when he worked there for little over a year in 2011-2012 has fuelled criticism that the minister acted out of a conflict of interest.

The minister's actions "could appear to be the payment of a debt after her son's gain," 5-Star leader Beppe Grillo wrote on his blog on Saturday. "Cancellieri is part of a world made up of politicians, bankers, institutions, investors who are all inextricably linked as if in a petrified forest."

FILED UNDER:
A couple walks along the rough surf during sunset at Oahu's North Shore, December 26, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Find your dream retirement town

Florida? Hawaii? Reuters has teamed up with Zillow to give you the power to customize a list of your best places to retire.  Video | Full Article