News Italy

Mayor of Venice and 34 others arrested over flood barriers corruption

Investigations dating back to 2013 show links with Milan EXPO 2015 corruption

Giorgio Orsoni

As the 14th Architecture Biennale opened its doors to the press, the city of Venice was rocked by the news that Giorgio Orsoni, mayor since 2010, has been arrested. He is charged with embezzlement, money laundering and contract rigging, all in connection with the Mose construction project, the €7bn flood barriers designed to protect the city from exceptional flooding events, and due to be completed in 2016. He is now under house arrest.

The project is already at the centre of a corruption probe which has seen more that 100 people investigated by the Italian financial police, but Orsoni’s is the most high-profile arrest so far. His lawyers have told the press his arrest “lacks credibility”.

According to Italian state media, an additional 34 businessmen, financiers and politicians have also been detained and are under investigation. These include Renato Chisso, the regional assessor for infrastructure; Giampietro Marchese, a regional councillor for Prime Minister Renzi’s party, the Partito Democratico; Franco Morbiolo the president of the Coveco cooperative, involved in the Mose project; and a former army general, Emilio Spaziante. Two former presidents of Venice’s once powerful Magistrato alle Acque, which historically governed the Venetian lagoon, but is now a feeble branch of the ministry of public works, have also been detained, although their names have not been released.

Investigators have also made an arrest request for Giancarlo Galan, the governor of the Veneto region from 1995 to 2010 and the country's minister of culture in 2011. Galan has since become a senator, which means the investigators will need a majority vote in the senate to make the arrest.

Revelations about the scale and intricacy of the corruption surrounding the Mose project keeps getting bigger. This latest series of arrests is the result of an investigation that started three years ago, when it was discovered that Giorgio Baita, then director of the construction giant Mantovani (which is now under investigation for rigging contracts at Milan EXPO 2015), had been laundering Mose funds in the Republic of San Marino with the alleged help of Galan’s former personal secretary, Claudia Minutillo. Investigators believe around €20m of public funds have been funnelled into foreign bank accounts and used to finance political parties.

As part of the same investigation, Giovanni Mazzacurati, the former head of the Consorzio Venezia Nuova, the association of Italian industries charged with building the flood barrier, was arrested in July 2013. He has since been released and received a controversial €7m severance package.

The €7bn Mose construction project, however, is beyond the point of no return, and the first of its component barriers were successfully tested last year. The necessity of a flood barrier, which was called into question for years by the country’s Green and communist parties, was established without a doubt by more than 100 international scientists at a conference organised in 2003 by Cambridge University and funded by the British charity the Venice in Peril Fund.

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