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Italy moves against corruption as mayor quits

Anti-corruption official given enhanced powers after Venice mayor resigns over graft scandal linked to flood barrier.

Last updated: 14 Jun 2014 00:09
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Venice's mayor is accused of receiving $762,400 in illicit political financing for flood barrier construction [EPA]

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has given his top anti-corruption official enhanced powers aimed at preventing scandals like the one that forced the resignation of Venice's mayor on Friday.

Mayor Giorgio Orsoni resigned under pressure for his role in a sweeping bribery scandal tainting a major public works project launched to protect Venice from flooding - just one of a series of corruption scandals in recent weeks.

The scandals have heaped pressure on Renzi to tackle Italy's endemic corruption, which deters international investment and erodes public trust in institutions.

The prime minister, whose party backed Orsoni in his 2010 election, said the Venice mayor had a duty to resign "once he made a plea agreement, declaring himself guilty".

Orsoni told reporters on Friday that his whole local government team would be resigning, paving the way for new elections in the city.

He said he was stepping down "with great sadness, convinced I have always operated in the interests of Venice and its citizens".

Illicit financing

Orsoni of the Democratic Party was arrested last week on accusations of receiving $762,400 in illicit political financing from the consortium responsible for the flood barrier.

Let's be clear: corruption cannot be fought with new rules, corruption is fought with an educational and civic bet, and with a large investment in the country's moral conscience.

Matteo Renzi, prime minister

He was released from house arrest on Thursday after agreeing to a four-month sentence and a $11,000 fine in a plea bargain.

He is highly unlikely to serve any jail time due to his clean previous record and the type of crime involved, the Reuters news agency reported.

Orsoni's role was only one aspect of the scandal involving alleged kickbacks connected with the $6.8bn flood barrier, a huge series of mobile barriers designed to protect Venice from rising tides.

Thirty-five warrants or requests for arrest proceedings were issued, targeting politicians across the political spectrum, and dozens more people were placed under investigation.

Political corruption has dominated headlines in Italy since early May, when seven managers and ex-members of parliament were arrested for alleged attempts to influence public tenders connected with Milan's Expo 2015 trade fair.

Under the government's new measures, the country's top anti-corruption official will have the ability to take over parts of public works projects tainted by scandal, like Expo 2015, the Associated Press said.

Renzi said the move is critical to ensuring new investments are made in Italy, and that routing corruption is a long-term project.

`'Let's be clear: corruption cannot be fought with new rules, corruption is fought with an educational and civic bet, and with a large investment in the country's moral conscience,'' Renzi said.

Italy ranks 69 out of 177 countries in Transparency International's corruption index, below most European and developed countries.

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