March 20, 2015 / 2:28 PM / in 3 years

Italy's Renzi seeks replacement for minister caught in scandal

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on Friday he would replace within a few days a top minister who is quitting after being embroiled in a corruption scandal.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi gestures as he addresses the Senate in Rome March 18, 2015. REUTERS/Remo Casilli

Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi is stepping down over a graft inquiry involving public works contracts worth billions of euros. Renzi, who has pledged to crack down on chronic corruption, welcomed Lupi’s resignation.

On Monday, police arrested four people in a sweeping investigation into the sort of graft that has long undermined Italy’s chronically stagnant economy. Lupi himself is not under investigation, but the links between the suspects and his ministry have raised an outcry and embarrassed Renzi.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels after a European Union leaders summit, Renzi said Lupi had made a “politically opportune” choice and “a gesture of great dignity”.

The 40-year-old prime minister said he would take over the ministry for a few days, and that he planned to meet President Sergio Mattarella on Monday to discuss a replacement.

Lupi is a member of the New Center Right (NCD) party that governs in coalition with Renzi, and his resignation creates a delicate political problem for the prime minister. Renzi must replace him while maintaining the balance of his left-right ruling coalition.

“I don’t foresee any political consequences that would affect the government’s action,” Renzi said of the affair, while declining to put forward any names of possible successors at the Transport Ministry.

Parliamentary sources say possible replacements for Lupi include Raffaele Cantone, head of Italy’s anti-bribery authority and a former magistrate, and Gaetano Quagliariello, a former minister from Lupi’s NCD party.

Italian newspapers speculated that Renzi’s chief of staff Graziano Delrio, the prime minister’s undersecretary Luca Lotti, and Finmeccanica chief executive Mauro Moretti are also among the candidates.

Renzi has faced widespread criticism for not doing more during his year in office to tackle rampant corruption, which deters foreign investment and bleeds state coffers.

Reporting by Francesco Guarascio, writing by Steve Scherer, editing by Larry King

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