Priest, Taranto mayor probed as ILVA investigation widens

Government ready to fight prosecutors to keep steel plant open

Priest, Taranto mayor probed as ILVA investigation widens

Taranto, November 27 - Taranto Mayor Stefano Ippazio and a priest, Marco Gerardo, are among five more people to have been placed under investigation in a widening probe into environmental contamination and corruption surrounding the troubled ILVA steel plant in Taranto, judicial sources said Tuesday. Gerardo served as secretary to the former archbishop of Taranto, Monsignor Benigno Luigi Papa. Seven top managers were arrested on Monday, while notice was given to ILVA Chairman Bruno Ferrante and the director of ILVA's Taranto plant, Adolfo Buffo, that he had been placed under investigation for defying court orders. The plant's steel and semi-finished products were also impounded and barred from sale on Monday. The new, mounting legal troubles led the company to announce an ''almost immediate'' shutdown of remaining operations at Italy's largest steel plant in Taranto, as well as probable closure of operations in other parts of Italy. ILVA's Taranto plant furnaces were placed under special administration in July, following accusations emissions from them caused abnormally high levels of tumours and respiratory diseases. Interior Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri warned of considerable risk to public order due to the shutdown's release of 5000 steel workers from their jobs. ''There is a risk, and it is substantial,'' Cancellieri said at the margins of a conference on Tuesday. Workers at the plant started a strike of at least 24 hours on Tuesday. White-collar staff at the huge site were persuaded to stop their occupation of some offices on Tuesday, although sit-ins continued at several gates. Employees at ILVA's Genoa plant, meanwhile, blocked the exit ramp from a motorway to protest against the hypothesis that their factory could close. Environment Minister Corrado Clini said that the government was ready to take on prosecutors in order to keep the troubled ILVA steel open. ILVA and the government have been trying to keep the plant in operation while remediation measures necessary for ILVA to obtain environmental authorization (AIA) are carried out. ''It's clear that the aim of the Taranto prosecutors' office is to block the application of the AIA and get the plant closed down,'' Clini said. ''They are trying to create the conditions in which the AIA is not applicable. This is not legal,'' Clini added. Clini said the government would meet unions and company representatives on Thursday, adding that the aim was to find an agreement for a decree to keep the plant open. ''Thursday's meeting won't just be talks. We are banking on coming out of it with measures, we are working on a decree for the application of the AIA,'' Clini said.

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