Italy justice minister faces calls to quit over influence allegations

Reuters

* Minister accused of getting family friend out of jail

* Opposition 5-Star Movement to present no-confidence motion

* Minister to address parliament on Tuesday

By Steve Scherer

ROME, Nov 2 (Reuters) - Italian Justice Minister Anna MariaCancellieri faced calls to resign on Saturday over accusationsshe used her influence to get the ailing daughter of a formerinsurance magnate out of prison.

The loss of an influential minister could furtherdestabilise Prime Minister Enrico Letta's fragile right-leftcoalition, where tensions are already running high ahead of avote to expel centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi fromparliament later this month over his conviction for tax fraud.

The opposition 5-Star Movement said on Friday it wouldpresent a no-confidence motion against Cancellieri. TheDemocratic Party (PD), the largest bloc supporting thegovernment, called on her to address parliament on the matter.

Cancellieri rejected the resignation demands, saying shestepped in only because of her concern for the health of GiuliaLigresti, former insurance mogul Salvatore Ligresti's oldestdaughter, and that she had done the same for dozens of others.

"I had a duty to do what I did for a person suffering fromanorexia who had not eaten for days and who has small children,"Cancellieri told reporters after speaking at the Radical Partycongress in Chianciano Terme, Italy, on Saturday.

For the first time the prime minister weighed in on thematter on Saturday, saying the government was "certain" that theminister's testimony in parliament would "dispel all doubt," astatement said.

Cancellieri will testify in parliament on Tuesday, aspokesman said.

The scandal erupted on Thursday when la Repubblica newspaperprinted the transcript of a tapped phone call between thejustice minister and the wife of Ligresti on the day he wasarrested, along with his two daughters and ex-company managers.

"You can count on me," Cancellieri said according to atranscript of the July 17 call seen by Reuters. The recordingwas made as part of a Turin court investigation into falseaccounting and market manipulation at insurer Fondiaria-SAI, which the Ligresti family controlled until last year.

On Aug. 28, after members of the Ligresti family and theminister exchanged several text messages and calls regardingGiulia's health in the previous weeks, she was freed from prisonand put under house arrest.

The Turin court said on Friday that the minister's actionshad no influence on her release from prison. Instead, the courtsaid, she was let go after a medical examination found hercontinued imprisonment would have been a "danger" to her health,and after she agreed to accept a plea bargain.

But her long friendship with the Ligresti family and thefact Cancellieri's son, Piergiorgio Peluso, earned severalmillion euros as an executive at Fondiaria-SAI when he workedthere for little over a year in 2011-2012 has fuelled criticismthat the minister acted out of a conflict of interest.

The minister's actions "could appear to be the payment of adebt after her son's gain," 5-Star leader Beppe Grillo wrote onhis blog on Saturday. "Cancellieri is part of a world made up ofpoliticians, bankers, institutions, investors who are allinextricably linked as if in a petrified forest."

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