MILAN (Reuters) – Italian prosecutors have placed former prime minister Giuseppe Conte under investigation for allegedly mishandling the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in early 2020, three sources with direct knowledge of the matter said on Thursday.
The total of 19 suspects also includes former Health Minister Roberto Speranza, Lombardy region governor Attilio Fontana and executives and officials from Italian national and regional public health bodies, the sources added.
Prosecutors in the northern city of Bergamo, the epicentre of the deadly outbreak of COVID-19 that began in February 2020, issued a statement late on Wednesday saying they had wrapped up their investigation against 17 suspects, without naming them.
They cited 17 people in the statement because the documents relating to the former prime minister and former health minister were transferred to a separate court dealing with government figures under Italian law, the sources added.
The crimes alleged in the closing act of investigation by Bergamo prosecutors are multiple manslaughter, culpability in an epidemic and refusal to carry out official acts.
The investigation by the public prosecutor’s office in Bergamo essentially dealt with two issues.
The first concerned the reasons why badly affected small towns around Bergamo were not locked down earlier in the outbreak, when infections were rising fast.
The second aspect concerned the fact that Italy’s pandemic plan had not been updated since 2006.
Conte, who was prime minister from 2018 to 2021 and now leads the opposition 5-Star Movement, said he would cooperate with the prosecutors.
“I face the country with calmness, having worked with the greatest commitment during one of the harshest moments experienced by our republic,” Conte said.
Speranza, who represents the opposition Democratic Party (PD) in parliament, said he had acted in the best interests of the country and was prepared to account for himself.
Iacopo Pensa, lawyer for Lombardy president Fontana, said his client had been questioned as a witness and should not have been placed under investigation.
“It is shameful that a person initially heard as a witness, finds out from newspapers that he is under investigation, it is a shame”, Fontana told a radio station on Thursday.
In an emailed statement the COVID victims’ family association said the dead had paid the price for institutional inefficiency and incompetence.
“As of today, the history of the Bergamo and Lombardy massacre is being rewritten… Italy has forgotten what happened in the spring of 2020, not because of Covid but because of precise decisions or rather lack of decisions,” they said.
(Reporting by Emilio Parodi; Editing by Keith Weir and William Maclean)
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