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Furore over undersecretary causes turbulence for Renzi

Gentile accused of pressuring paper to pull story on son

03 March, 16:42
Furore over undersecretary causes turbulence for Renzi (ANSA) - Rome, March 3 - A furore over alleged attempts by a new undersecretary to stop a damaging newspaper report being published is causing turbulence for Premier Matteo Renzi's young government. Senator Antonio Gentile, who was named transport and infrastructure undersecretary on Friday, is facing calls to quit following reports he pressured local daily L'Ora di Calabria not to publish a piece about allegations his son was implicated in corruption in health-sector contracts.

In the end the whole edition of the newspaper, including the story about Gentile's son, did not go out on February 19, officially because of a technical problem at the printers, although many doubt this version of events.

Several members of Renzi's own centre-left Democratic Party (PD) have called for Gentile to quit or be removed, along with several top Italian journalists.

And the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S) is preparing a motion of no confidence in the Senator, a member of Interior Minister's New Centre Right (NCD) party, the junior partner in Renzi's coalition government. The NCD is standing behind Gentile, who says he has no intention to resign from the government and is the victim of mudslinging. "I didn't exert influence on the publisher, on the journalist or on the editor of the newspaper," Gentile said Monday, adding that his son had received no notification that he is being probed. The government has also been hit by controversy about the appointment of culture undersecretary Francesca Barracciu, a PD member who is under investigation for allegedly embezzling party funds.

A long series of corruption scandals have hit parties from all sides of Italy's political spectrum in recent years and the row over Gentile and Barracciu could hurt the ability of Renzi, the country's youngest premier at 39, to present himself as the face of change.