April 3, 2016 / 5:41 PM / 2 years ago

Italy's PM says legislation at the heart of oil scandal was his

MILAN (Reuters) - Italy’s prime minister on Sunday claimed full ownership of a measure to free up long delayed oil deliveries from a southern field that has prompted a minister to resign over allegations of influence peddling.

Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi attends a meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the Chigi Palace in Rome, Italy, in this February 26, 2016 file photo. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/Files

Matteo Renzi told state television RAI that he himself had proposed the amendment to help production at the Tempa Rossa field by putting the government in charge of decisions over transport and storage infrastructure, bypassing regional governments.

Industry Minister Federica Guidi resigned on Thursday after the publication of phone-tapped conversations in which she told her partner the government would pass legislation that would help his energy business.

Renzi said the phone call had clearly been a mistake but the government had to act to make up for Italy’s slow bureaucracy.

“I chose that amendment, it’s mine,” Renzi said. “I’m fully behind it ... the government has the power and, I’d say, the duty to unblock public works.”

The scandal hit the 41-year-old premier at a time when Italy’s economic recovery is looking wobbly and local elections are looming, including in key Italian cities such as Rome and Milan.

The Tempa Rossa field in Basilicata, run by France’s Total, was discovered in 1989 but production has been hampered by a lack of infrastructure needed to get the oil to the port city of Taranto in the neighboring Puglia region.

Prosecutors in Basilicata investigating the case said last week they were probing charges Guidi’s partner used his position to build commercial ties with Total.

Renzi said he was ready to talk to the prosecutors.

“We’re changing this country so much that if magistrates want to question me about what we’re doing, not just Tempa Rossa, but all the other things that we got moving, here I am.”

According to the press, prosecutors plan to question both Guidi and Maria Elena Boschi, the minister for parliamentary relations and one of Renzi’s closest allies. Neither Guidi nor Boschi are under investigation.

Boschi, whose name has also come up in the phone-tapped conversations, said in an interview with Sunday’s La Stampa newspaper the government was under attack because it was not close to Italy’s vested interests.

But Renzi, who took office two years ago vowing to end the cronyism that has often marred Italian politics, said he did not believe in conspiracies when asked about Boschi’s comments.

“There is a legitimate political battle against us ... though I lose my temper when my honesty is questioned,” he said.

Renzi said he greatly admired Admiral Giuseppe De Giorgi, the head of the navy, who is also under investigation in a separate strand of the probe.

“He is a person Italy can be proud of,” he said.

Reporting by Valentina Za; Editing by Clelia Oziel

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