Premier Romano Prodi’s shaky centre-left government faced a fierce Senate debate regarding junior Economy minister Vincenzo Visco’s alleged interference in a banking scandal investigation. The deputy minister has been accused of seeking the transfer last year of several finance police officers who were investigating a failed bid by Italian insurer Unipol to take over one of Italy’s top banks. Visco denied the allegations in a detailed report presented to the Senate. The centre-left government subsequently won a tricky vote, expressing support for its handling of the affair, though the fragile majority government came dangerously close, once again, to an ill fate. The government passed the vote by 161 votes to 17, with most of the opposition boycotting the ballot in protest.
Visco’s accuser is finance police chief Roberto Speciale, who was removed by the government last week. Speciale claims Visco put pressure on him last July to transfer four tax police officers based in and around Milan. The officers, who were ultimately not transferred, were investigating Unipol’s July 2005 bid for Banca Nazionale del Lavoro. The bid failed amid regulatory probes and judicial inquiries. The Visco scandal comes at a difficult time for Prodi, who is recovering from a setback in local elections.