Huge financial scandal in Venice
Corruption charges over flood barrier bring seven arrests, including former president of the agency in charge of its building
By Lidia Panzeri and Anna Somers Cocks. Web only
Published online: 15 July 2013
In the early hours of 12 July, the Venetian fiscal police carried out a major sweep, arresting Giovanni Mazzacurati, the former director and president of the Consorzio Venezia Nuova (the association of Italian industries charged by the Italian government to devise and execute the flood protection scheme for Venice known as Mose). In further raids across the country, six other people were arrested as part of an investigation into the alleged rigging of contracts and fraudulent invoicing relating to Mose. Mazzacurati, 81, has been director of the Consorzio from its creation in 1983 and president from 2005, but resigned on 28 June, officially for reasons of ill health.
The investigation into the financial conduct of the Consorzio began under the technocratic government of Mario Monti (2011-13), with around 500 agents of the fiscal police scrutinising the accounts of companies in Venice and the Veneto, as well as Lombardy, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany, Lazio and Campania.
Mazzacurati, who has been described as “masterful” in his leadership of the Consorzio, is accused of having rigged the tendering process so that certain firms, particularly from the Veneto, won the main jobs in this huge engineering scheme.
These dramatic developments come at a decisive moment for Mose. On 4 July all the hinged caissons (hollow steel flaps) were installed and a trial run is expected in the late autumn. If they work, 75% of the project will be finished. When building began in 2003, the estimated cost was €5.5 billion, of which €5 billion has already been supplied by central government. Another €1.5 billion is required if they are to be completed by 2016.
It is estimated that the alleged practices may have inflated costs by 30%. The Italian tax payer is the loser, but especially the city of Venice, which depends on money voted under the so-called Special Law for its exceptional and unavoidable costs, such as dredging the canals and repairing the ancient buildings. In 2002, the year before Mose began construction, the city received €592m under the Special Law; in 2003, this fell to €23m because funding was diverted towards Mose, and has remained well below the minimum of €140m a year that mayor Giorgio Orsoni says the city needs.
An eye-catching result of these cuts has been the sale of advertisements on the façades of major buildings to help pay for their restoration, and the town council has been forced to dispose of major buildings such as Ca ’Corner della Regina, now a Prada headquarters, at firesale prices.
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