Top Amazon executive to take two-year post with Italian prime minister

Diego Piacentini of the leading online retailer speaks at a news conference in Paris August 29 , 2000.

ROME (Reuters) - A top executive at, Diego Piacentini, is taking a two-year leave of absence to lead Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s digital technology office, the company said on Wednesday.

Piacentini, Amazon’s senior vice president of international consumer business, has been with the U.S. company for 16 years and will move to Rome this summer, working for free during his 24-month stint.

“Mr. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, we are so proud of Diego. Great for Italy. Kudos to all,” Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos said on Twitter, announcing Piacentini’s temporary relocation to his home country.

“Come to Italy and we can talk about innovation!” Renzi replied.

It was not immediately clear what was expected of Piacentini, but the Italian government is eager to upgrade the country’s technological know-how in an effort to aid the sluggish economy.

Only some 36 percent of Italian households are covered by so-called next-generation-access networks, according to latest European Union data, against 43 percent in France and 81 percent in Germany. Renzi has said he wants to give almost all households rapid broadband cover by 2020.

His government has also said it wants to establish “digital neighborhoods” in cities that will be dedicated to fostering hi-tech startups.

Last month, U.S. technology giant Apple announced it would open a center for developing apps in the southern Italian city of Naples -- its first such facility in Europe.

Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Toni Reinhold