Italy Minister Resigns, Adding To Headaches For Government

by
Reuters
Italian Agriculture Minister Nunzia De Girolamo resigned on Sunday, following heavy criticism after she was caught on tape discussing public contracts, adding a further complication to Prime Minister Enrico Letta's fragile coalition.

Italian Prime Minister Letta gestures during news conference in Berlin

Italian Agriculture Minister Nunzia De Girolamo resigned on Sunday, following heavy criticism after she was caught on tape discussing public contracts, adding a further complication to Prime Minister Enrico Letta's fragile coalition.

De Girolamo, a member of the small New Centre Right (NCD) party which supports Prime Minister Enrico Letta's left-right coalition, denied any wrongdoing in the affair and said that she had quit her ministerial post to defend her dignity.

"I cannot remain in a government which has not defended my honour," she said in a statement.

The resignation adds another twist to the already complicated situation facing the coalition between the centre-left Democratic Party and NCD.

"I respect this gesture of great dignity by Nunzia," her party colleague, Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi was quoted by RAI state television as saying.

De Girolamo faced pressure to resign after the emergence of a secret recording made in 2012, before she became a minister, in which she was heard apparently discussing the award of a contract to manage a hospital cafe in her home region of Benevento in southern Italy.

She always denied any wrongdoing, saying she had been framed, but she received notably little support from coalition partners or Letta himself when she defended herself in parliament earlier this month.

She was not under formal investigation but the opposition 5-Star Movement called a no confidence motion against her which had been due to be held on Feb. 4.

Italian newspapers said that she was likely now to rejoin Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party which she left last year as part of a breakaway centre-right group that remained with Letta when Berlusconi quit the ruling coalition.

The moment comes at a delicate time for the government as parliament prepares to debate new electoral reform proposals designed to replace the system blamed for the messy deadlock left by last year's election.

Letta has faced pressure to reshuffle his cabinet but it was not immediately clear whether De Girolamo's departure would herald wider changes in the executive.