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Italy: Agriculture minister refuses to resign amid mafia probe

last update: July 15, 13:52

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Rome, 15 July - (AKI) - Italy's agriculture minister Saverio Romano has refused to resign over alleged links with the Sicilian mafia and vowed to clear his name. "I am not resigning, I am light years away from the mafia," he told daily Corriere della Sera in an interview on Friday.

"I will defend myself before all bodies, including the anti-mafia commission," he said.

Should a "conflict of interest" be established in his retaining a cabinet post, he would "decide what do do then," Romano said.

"Had I received the legal documents or been questioned, and had a judge ordered me to stand trial, then I would not stay in my job. Instead, I am just being hounded," Romano stated.

Prosecutors in Sicily requested Thursday that Romano be put on trial on mafia-related charges. In over a decade as an MP, Romano 'put his position at the disposal of Cosa Nostra, contributing to the organization's criminal plan aimed at gaining power and influence over political and administrative institutions,' prosecutor Nino Di Matteo wrote in the request.

Members of Italy's centre-left opposition immediately asked for Romano to resign from prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's cabinet and to answer the charges against him in court.

Romano was made a minister in March in a cabinet reshuffle. His appointment was widely seen a reward for his decision to quit the opposition centrist Catholic UDC party, in which he was elected to parliament, and to support Berlusconi in a crucial no-confidence vote held last December.

Prosecutors in Palermo re-opened an earlier investigation, the 'Ghiacco' (Ice) mafia and corruption probe and subsequent trial, shelved in 2004. This also involved jailed former Sicily governor Salvatore Cuffaro.Cuffaro, a former senator for the UDC party was in 2010 sentenced to 7 years in jail for abetting the mafia.

During Cuffaro's trial and sentencing, Romano's name was mentioned. Mafia turncoat Francesco Campanella testified that Romano was in 2001 "at the beck and call of the Sicilian mafia's Villabate crime family based in Palermo".

Romano has dismissed the claims as "politically motivated".

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