A senior official in Italy’s interior ministry has resigned over the controversial deportation of the wife and daughter of a fugitive Kazakh opposition politician that threatens to destabilise Enrico Letta’s coalition government.
Giuseppe Procaccini, chief of staff of Angelino Alfano, interior minister and deputy prime minister, handed in his resignation on Tuesday after the chief of police submitted his report into the May 31 deportations, the ministry said.
Under pressure from opposition parties to resign over the affair, Mr Alfano reiterated to parliament that he had not been informed about the deportations of Alma Shalabayeva and her six-year-old daughter Alua, blaming a breakdown in communications. He said he would order a reorganisation of the public security apparatus, starting with the immigration department.
He denied Ms Shalabayeva’s claims to have asked for political asylum in Italy and said the authorities involved had not known her husband was a political refugee.
Opposition senators poured scorn on his account, saying he had brought shame on the country and demanded his resignation. Senior politicians in Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right People of Liberty have warned that the forced resignation of Mr Alfano, party secretary, would bring down Mr Letta’s left-right coalition.
Ms Shalabayeva and her daughter were expelled two days after a special police unit raided a villa where she was living in Rome. They were hoping to arrest her dissident husband, Mukhtar Ablyazov, on the request of the Kazakh government.
Mr Ablyazov was not there, but Ms Shalabayeva was arrested and accused of holding a false passport, which she denied. The Kazakh embassy in Rome rented a private jet to fly the mother and child to Astana, the capital.
Mr Letta’s government began an internal inquiry last week after facing fierce criticism for its handling of the deportations and announced last Friday that it had revoked the expulsion orders. Rome said the mother and child had the right to return to Italy but Kazakhstan replied that she was a flight risk and could not leave the city of Almaty until a criminal investigation into how she acquired a Kazakh passport had been completed.
Italian media and opposition politicians had speculated that Mr Procaccini would resign as the scapegoat in the affair to protect Mr Alfano. Mr Procaccini is reported to have met Kazakhstan’s ambassador to Rome the day before the raid.
A motion of no-confidence in Mr Alfano has been tabled by opposition parties and is expected to be heard in the senate on Friday. Mr Alfano’s supporters accuse some members of Mr Letta’s Democratic party of trying to use the affair to bring down their coalition.
Mr Ablyazov, whose whereabouts is unknown, accuses the Kazakh government of holding his wife and daughter as a hostage to settle its political scores.
The former energy minister, who became a critic of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, fled Kazakhstan in 2009 when his BTA bank, of which he was chairman, was nationalised. Kazakh authorities say he is wanted in his homeland on charges of bank fraud, involvement in organised criminal groups and money laundering. He denies all these charges.
Mr Ablyazov was granted political asylum in the UK in 2011 but fled the country after police warned him his life was in danger. He has appealed against a 22-month jail sentence imposed in the UK for contempt of court.
Italian newspapers reported on Tuesday that Mr Nazarbayev spent five days on holiday on the island of Sardinia this month but cut short his stay after details emerged in the media of the circumstances surrounding the deportations. Mr Berlusconi, who as prime minister fostered close commercial relations with resource-rich Kazakhstan, denied reports that he flew to Sardinia to meet Mr Nazarbayev.
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