The embarrassing dads causing trouble for Italy’s top politicians

Parents behaving badly are causing no end of headaches for their high-flying offspring in Italian politics, with Luigi Di Maio the latest in the spotlight.

The embarrassing dads causing trouble for Italy's top politicians
Luigi Di Maio. Photo: Tiziana Fabi / AFP

The EU may be waiting urgently for answers from Italy over its contested budget, but another hot topic is the talk of Rome's corridors of power: embarrassing dads.

Italian police last week seized land belonging to the father of deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio as part of a probe into alleged fraud and illegal employment at his company which has left his son – the leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) – red faced and answering difficult questions.

But Antonio Di Maio is just the latest parent to embarrass his high-flying offspring in Italy's political circles.

“I'd like to look Luigi's father in the eye and say that I hope that he does not go through what his son and friends put my father and my family through,” former minister Maria Elena Boschi, 37, said on Twitter this week.

Boschi senior was investigated in late 2017 — and later cleared — in a scandal which saw his centre-left daughter accused of using her position to try to save a local bank where her father worked.

At the time, Luigi Di Maio's M5S party was quick to demand both Boschi's political scalp and that of her ally, former prime minister Matteo Renzi.

READ ALSO: Luigi Di Maio, the face of Italian populism

“My father was dragged through the mud by a campaign of hatred,” Boschi said.Renzi, 43, suffered his own headache after his father, Tiziano, was placed under investigation in early 2017 for alleged influence-peddling.

The case against him was shelved last month.

'The silent treatment'

“If I had done what Di Maio senior did, the M5S would already have launched an appeal on social networks for the return of the death penalty,” Tiziano Renzi said on Facebook. 

Luigi Di Maio, 32, has been quick to distance himself from his dad, saying that “for years we never even talked. We didn't have a good relationship”.

“There was a 'blackout' period because I didn't like some of the ways he was behaving,” he said.

The politician, who now owns half of his father's company, worked there for three months in 2008 and published his pay slip on Wednesday in an attempt to show the business had been run by the books.

But critics smelled a rat, questioning whether the young politician known for his dapper appearance really worked there as a manual labourer, as claimed.

“I believed the company respected the rules. I'm the one who now has to ask my father to explain,” he said.

Luigi di Maio. Photo: AFP

And even the father of Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has waded into the fray, calling for Di Maio to be left alone.

Di Maio is obliged under the movement's rules to step down as M5S chief after this mandate, but his likely successor, Alessandro Di Battista, is no luckier with his own father.

Vittorio Di Battista, his father, is a self-declared fascist who was placed under investigation earlier this year for threats to the Italian president after evoking the storming of the Bastille in Paris during the French revolution. 

“When the people of Paris attacked and destroyed that huge building, symbol of the evil of power, the vast mounds of rubble were then sold by a local builder, making him wealthy.”

“The Quirinale Palace (and presidential residence) is more than the Bastille, it has paintings, tapestries, rugs and statues,” he said in May in a now-deleted post on Facebook, according to Italian media.

The Bastille violence led to the overthrow — and eventual execution — of King Louis XVI.

Asked in 2015 if he would like his son to become foreign minister, Vittorio replied: “I would prefer interior minister. I hope he will become nastier than his old man.”

Meanwhile the usually outspoken Matteo Salvini, has been forced to bite his tongue over the latest scandal involving his co-deputy.

The head of the far-right League, which governs alongside the M5S, is doubtless quietly praying he escapes the parent trap.

His only comment: “I am happy my father is a quiet pensioner, who at most volunteers in the local parish or plays bridge,” he said on Tuesday.


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How Italy’s government is trying to ban the sale of CBD oil

Products containing CBD will only be legally available on prescription in Italy from this week after the government classified it as a narcotic substance, despite a European court ruling.

How Italy’s government is trying to ban the sale of CBD oil

As of Wednesday, September 20th, oil containing cannabidiol (CBD), a chemical compound derived from cannabis plants, can only be sold in Italy in pharmacies by prescription.

The change came into force 30 days after the Italian government signed a decree which classified “CBD for oral administration” as a narcotic substance.

The Meloni administration’s move to block the sale of CBD oil, which had long been classified as a food supplement, was met with an angry reaction from representatives of the Italian CBD industry, which they said was being “sacrificed” to favour the pharmaceutical sector.

Italian cannabis industry association Canapa Sativa Italia (CSI) said the move was “not only devoid of scientific foundation, but will also have serious repercussions for Italy,” reported the industry news website Business of Cannabis.

“The sale will now require a rigorous system of registration as a drug with the health ministry, a procedure absolutely unsuitable for a substance without risks such as CBD,” the organisation said.

Opposition politicians described the latest move to block the sale of CBD as “ideological” and “grotesque, if not criminal”.

Many pointed out how it was contrary to a World Health Organisation recommendation not to classify CBD as a controlled substance, and the European Commission’s statement in 2020 that CBD was not considered a narcotic drug under European law.

This followed a 2020 European Court of Justice ruling that products like CBD oil shouldn’t be considered narcotics as, “according to the current state of scientific knowledge,” they “do not appear to have any psychotropic effect or any harmful effect on human health.”

Oils and other edible products containing CBD are legally available without prescription across most of the European Union, though laws vary by country.

The sale of pure CBD oil is legal across most of the EU, though many countries have restrictions on products containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the hemp molecule with psychoactive effects. (Photo by FRED TANNEAU / AFP)

Elisabetta Biavati, president of the Medical Cannabis Patients Association and author of an open letter to Health Minister Orazio Schillaci, said people in Italy who use CBD to relieve pain, anxiety or insomnia will be penalised by the government’s stance.

“Doctors are generally very reluctant to fill out this prescription because, due to cultural training, they tend to view cannabidiol as a drug when, among other things, it has no narcotic effect in itself,” she told newspaper La Stampa.

Patients in Italy would be left with two options: paying for a private prescription, or turning to the black market, she said, unless they were able to buy the product from neighbouring countries.

“In France, Switzerland or Slovenia, CBD is considered a simple supplement, with protections for the end consumer, as could also be put in place in Italy,” she said.

Italian hemp federation Federcanapa pointed out that the government will not be able to prevent the “free circulation” of CBD products from other European countries, meaning the law would be a blow only to Italian producers.

The CSI said it was calling for a “revision of the decree” and a “working table based on scientific evidence” to address the issue.

The government’s move to block the production of CBD in Italy came after an Italian court in February overturned what it called an “absurdly restrictive” decree which aimed to classify hemp leaves and flowers as narcotics, amid a broader push by leading politicians to clamp down on ‘cannabis light’.