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Italy: 2015 Milan Expo will go on despite scandal

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Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi delivers his speech during his visit in Milan, Italy, Tuesday, May 13, 2014. Renzi later visited the Expo 2015 construction site, where more than 132 countries will be establishing their pavilions for the world’s fair that will open on May 1, 2015 and continue until the end of October of that year. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi delivers his speech during his visit in Milan, Italy, Tuesday, May 13, 2014. Renzi later visited the Expo 2015 construction site, where more than 132 countries will be establishing their pavilions for the world’s fair that will open on May 1, 2015 and continue until the end of October of that year. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi waves during his visit in Milan, Italy, Tuesday, May 13, 2014. Renzi later visited the Expo 2015 construction site, where more than 132 countries will be establishing their pavilions for the world’s fair that will open on May 1, 2015 and continue until the end of October of that year. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi delivers his speech during his visit in Milan, Italy, Tuesday, May 13, 2014. Renzi later visited the Expo 2015 construction site, where more than 132 countries will be establishing their pavilions for the world’s fair that will open on May 1, 2015 and continue until the end of October of that year. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi arrives at the Expo 2015 headquarters during his visit in Milan, Italy, Tuesday, May 13, 2014. Renzi later visited the Expo 2015 construction site, where more than 132 countries will be establishing their pavilions for the world’s fair that will open on May 1, 2015 and continue until the end of October of that year. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

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MILAN (AP) — Italian Premier Matteo Renzi pledged Tuesday that work on the 2015 world Expo trade fair will continue despite a corruption scandal echoing the vast 1990s “Kickback City” scandals that toppled Italy’s postwar political order.

Milan prosecutors last week ordered seven arrests in a probe into infrastructure kickbacks in Lombardy, including about 180 million euros ($250 million) in building contracts awarded to Expo 2015, a showcase event involving nearly 150 nations that is expected to inject millions into Milan’s economy.

The suspects include Expo’s construction manager and two politicians accused of being middlemen for building deals who had previously been jailed during the 1990s corruption probes — a sign for many that little has changed in more than two decades.

“I confess a sense of dismay when I see images of a hand going into a jacket and pulling out an envelope, and the same names from a past that should have been archived and buried,” Renzi told reporters after meeting with Expo managers.

Renzi traveled with his anti-corruption czar to Milan to seek to contain political repercussions to the scandal, which has given a boost to the anti-establishment 5-Star movement just two weeks before European elections. Renzi said he would not heed calls by 5-Star’s leader Beppe Grillo to shut construction at Expo, which opens next May.

“Whoever robs needs to be stopped. You don’t stop the project. You stop the thieves,” Renzi told reporters.

Renzi has pledged to clean out the old guard and do away with business as usual in Italy. He last month named a former anti-mafia prosecutor, Raffaele Cantone, to head an anti-corruption task force, and last week enlisted him to focus on public works contracts for Expo.

Cantone wants to expand the tools available to fight corruption, and has pledged to revise the legal framework to make fighting corruption more efficient, including shortening the statute of limitations and considering lighter penalties for those who cooperate with authorities.

Italian industry has indicated its support of the government’s renewed efforts to root out corruption in Italy, which was rated 69th in Transparency International’s perceived level of public sector corruption last year — behind Montenegro and just ahead of Kuwait.

“I want to say very strongly that we, and our businesses, are for legality and we are happy to have found a similar will and determination in this government to proceed in the same direction,” said Lorenzo Mattioli, president of an Italian machinery producers lobby that commissioned its own study that found illegal behavior deeply rooted in all levels of Italian society.

On a scale of 1 to 100, Italians rated their perceived sense of legality at 21, according to the survey conducted by Coesis Research commissioned for the Afidamp machinery producers.

Not surprisingly, construction bidding was cited as one of the most “fertile territories” for illegality — among 77 percent of the 1,000 people interviewed.

Associated Press

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