(ANSA) - Taranto, July 23 - Almost 50 people were indicted
Thursday in a case of alleged "environmental disaster" at the
troubled Ilva steel works in Taranto.
Among the 44 people sent to trial along with three
companies was former Puglia governor Nichi Vendola, accused of
leaning on a regional environment agency head for softer reports
on the toxicity of emissions from Europe's biggest steel works.
Members of the Riva family that formerly owned the Ilva
steelworks are also among those set to stand trial, along with
politicians and current and former administrative officials.
Former CEO Fabio Riva, the only defendant imprisoned in the
case after his arrest in June, will stand trial along with his
The politicians involved, aside from Vendola, include
former councillor for youth policies, Nicola Fratoianni, and a
regional councillor for Premier Matteo Renzi's Democratic Party,
Donato Pentassuglia, who are both accused of facilitating
The ex-president of the province of Taranto Giovanni
Florido and the former environmental councillor of the province
Michele Conserva are also implicated.
Other names among the accused are of former Ilva managers
and plant directors, as well as former town prefects, a lawyer
for Ilva and ministerial workers who were involved in releasing
environmental permits for the plant.
Left, Ecology and Freedom (SEL) party chief Vendola denied
the charges, saying the indictment against him is "an unbearable
injury" that he will face "with a clean conscience".
Vendola is accused of aggravated abuse of office for
allegedly pressuring the head of the regional environmental
protection agency Arpa, Giorgio Assennato, to tone down reports
on the toxic effects of emissions from Ilva.
Assennato has also been indicted, for alleged aiding and
"The accusation against me is an unbearable injury, which
erases historical truth," he said.
"I have represented the first and the only lawmaking class
that has defied Ilva's omnipotence and that has produced
vanguard regional laws to combat environmental pollution in
Taranto," Vendola said.
"I have represented the kind of politics that hasn't taken
bribes and hasn't bowed, in a territory colonized by the Riva
family (owners of Ilva)," he continued.
"I have represented the first and the only institution that
has placed (Ilva plant) under (emissions) monitoring, generating
the pollution data that has allowed the judiciary to build a
case against Ilva - which had been polluting for the 50 years
that preceded my government, during which no authority thought
to do anything about it".
Vendola, who has frequently denounced polluting conditions
at the works but has also underscored its importance as the
city's largest employer, went on to say that his only fault was
having tried to strike a balance between public health and the
rights of Ilva workers to keep their jobs.
"Today is a day of bitterness and disappointment - but I go
to to trial with the clean conscience of one who knows he has
always worked for the common good," the ex-governor concluded.
Vendola ended by saying he is very glad former regional
council member for the environment Lorenzo Nicastro was
"The accusation against him were an offence to his history
as a man and a magistrate," the SEL leader said.
Meanwhile Ilva special commissioner Piero Gnudi told a
Lower House hearing Thursday that environmental cleanup at the
troubled steel works and restoring it to health and productivity
is "a reachable objective".
Gnudi also said one of the steelmaker's furnaces may have
to shut down after a worker was killed there by a blast of
molten metal last month.
"We are trying to avert the closure but the problem
exists," Gnudi said.
A prosecutor at the end of June rejected a request by Ilva
to unseal the furnace in which the 35-year-old worker was
Italy in March passed a so-called save-Ilva decree allowing
the cash-strapped steel manufacturer to get 400 million euros in
State-backed loans from the national government's Cassa Depositi
e Prestiti (CDP).
The cabinet also approved a 260-million euro bridge loan.
Extraordinary commissioners are now managing Ilva as the
troubled plant goes through a massive environmental cleanup and
financial turnaround project.
The Ilva decree says that 80% of the requirements must be
met by August 2015, with the remaining 20% to be fulfilled by
Gnudi reported Thursday that the cleanup process is "well
over 80% complete, so it is an objective that can be reached".
"We don't want to save an insolvent company but one that
can be efficient, create wealth and maintain jobs," Gnudi told
the House environmental and industry committees.
"Ilva can generate significant earnings before interest,
taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) once it returns
to full operational capacity, in 2017".
A court in January declared Ilva insolvent, with debt
totaling nearly three billion euros.
This came one week after the industry ministry named former
power and environmental executives Gnudi, Enrico Laghi and
Corrado Carrubba as extraordinary commissioners.
Ilva has employed some 20,000 people and been blamed for
decades of environmental degradation and high levels of cancer
in the area.