ROME (Reuters) - Italian prosecutors placed a junior member of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s government under investigation in a growing political corruption scandal over alleged fraud and contract rigging at migrant reception centers, officials said on Friday.
The announcement came a day after police arrested 44 people and placed 21 others under investigation in the same case.
Prosecutors in Catania, Sicily, said they had included Giuseppe Castiglione, undersecretary for agriculture and a member of Renzi’s center-right coalition partners, on a list of officials targeted in the so-called “Mafia Capital” investigation which has been running since last year.
Castiglione, the first member of the national government to be directly implicated in the case, said he had not been officially informed he was under investigation and he denied any wrongdoing.
“I’m absolutely calm about this issue,” he told SkyTG24 television.
The alleged rigging of contracts at migrant reception centers is only one part of the Mafia Capitale investigation, which has uncovered evidence of a wider system of corruption organized by a network of politicians and businessmen.
The burgeoning scandal has largely involved local politicians in Rome, although it has caused serious embarrassment to Renzi’s center-left Democratic Party (PD), which currently runs the city administration.
But it has underlined the extent to which unscrupulous operators have been able to exploit the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean, which has left authorities struggling to handle the tens of thousands of refugees arriving by boat.
The migrant reception centers are often run under contract by companies linked to social cooperative organizations, often tied to the Catholic Church. The alleged organizers of the scheme are accused of fixing tenders to win management contracts.
Castiglione’s name was linked to allegations that officials fixed contracts to manage the migrant reception center in the Sicilian town of Mineo, the same center where survivors were taken after a disaster in April in which as many as 800 people died.
Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Gareth Jones