Giuseppe Orsi arrest highlights Italian politics' odd relationship with business

Finmeccanica chief arrested.

Giuseppe Orsi, the chairman of Italian giant defence and aerospace group Finmeccanica, was arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of corruption.

The investigation relates to the sale of 12 helicopters to the Indian government by AgustaWestland, the high tech helicopter unit of Finmeccanica back in 2010, at which time Orsi was at the division’s helm.

He now stands accused of bribing the Indian government to secure the sale. And he is not alone: the current managing director of AgustaWestland is under house arrest, an option not considered for Orsi, who judges said could potentially pervert the course of justice.

Unsurprisingly, Finmeccanica shares have tanked after initially being suspended, falling by more than 9 per cent to €4.236.

And this is merely the first layer of a complex story. According to the judge, bribery was “part of the firm’s philosophy” – hardly a compliment, but definitely less flattering considering the fact that the State is a 30 per cent shareholder in the business.

Finmeccanica has expressed solidarity with Mr Orsi, but Prime Minister Mario Monti declared, in his understated manner, that “there is a problem with respect to Finmeccanica governance that we will have to tackle”.

That’s certainly a good idea. But it is worth considering that it was Monti himself that appointed Mr Orsi as chairman at the end of 2011, following investigations into the practices of previous chairman Pier Francesco Guarguaglini and his wife, then head of another Finmeccanica subsidiary.

Orsi’s arrest comes just one day after the resignation of the Pope and it is possibly one of the few stories capable of pushing that news down to second place on Italian newspapers… Primarily because there is an election around the corner, and the German-born Vatican resident tends not to be active in local politics.

It’s election time, which has proven to be during the years intense and tiring time for the judiciary.

Investigations are still ongoing on Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the oldest bank in the world and the third largest in Italy by assets.

Not to be outdone, the head of State-owned energy company Eni Paolo Scaroni has received notice that he is under investigation for bribery.

And let’s not forget, that Italy’s technocrat saviour, and whose appointee is under arrest - Mario Monti - is running for office, as is the man most synonymous with Italian political intrigue - Silvio Berlusconi.

So, are we likely to see major changes and a clean up as a result of these elections? God knows! Or does he… It’s hard to tell now his spokesperson has thrown in the towel.

Giuseppe Orsi. Photograph: Getty Images

Sara Perria is the Assistant Editor for Banking and Payments, VRL Financial News

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When Theresa May speaks, why don’t we listen?

Not many Prime Ministers have to repeat themselves three times. 

Theresa May is the candidate of Brexit and market panic. She ascended to the highest office because, in the fraught weeks after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, she represented a safe haven for nervous Conservative MPs, the dependable family mutual that remained open while all along the Conservative high street, her rivals were shutting up shop.

Her popularity, as revealed in high poll ratings outside Westminster, too, owes itself to the perception that she is a serious politician in serious times, happily installed atop the ship of state to guide it through the rocky waters of Brexit negotiations.

May’s premiership has been defined by market panics of a different kind, however. The first is in the currency markets, where sterling takes a tumble whenever she pronounces on Britain’s future relationship with the European Union, falling both after her conference speech on 2 October and after her start-of-the-year interview with Sophy Ridge on 8 January. The second is in the opinion pages, where May’s stock oscillates wildly from bullish to bearish.

In the first months of May’s government, she was hailed as an Anglo-Saxon counterpart to Angela Merkel: a solid centre-right Christian democrat who would usher in a decade of conservative hegemony. More recently, she has been compared to Gordon Brown because of her perceived indecisiveness and repeatedly accused of failing to spell out what, exactly, her government’s Brexit objectives are.

In a symbol of the splits on the right between the Brexiteers and Remainers, the Economist, that bible of free-market globalisation and usually a reliable tastemaker as far as Westminster groupthink is concerned, began 2017 by dubbing the Prime Minister “Theresa Maybe”. Though May’s Downing Street is less concerned with the minutiae of what goes on in the public press than David Cameron’s, the contention that she is indecisive was a source of frustration.

There is an element of truth in the claim that May still views the world through a “Home Office lens”. One senior minister complains that Downing Street considers the Ministry of Justice as a “rogue outpost” of May’s old stomping ground, rather than a fully fledged department with its own interests and perspectives.

Yet even the most authoritarian of home secretaries would struggle to secure a conviction against May on the charge of opacity as far as her Brexit approach is concerned. She has hit the same grace notes with the reliability of a professional musician: Brexit means freedom from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and control over Britain’s borders, two objectives that can only be achieved as a result of Britain’s exit not only from the EU but also the single market. This was confirmed on 17 January in the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech in London.

David Cameron used to say that he would never have “a people”. Certainly, there is no Cameroon tendency in the country at large to match the generation of council house residents that became homeowners and lifelong Conservatives because of Margaret Thatcher and Right to Buy. However, there is, unquestionably, a Cameroon people or faction to be found at almost every rung of London’s financial services sector or at editorial meetings of the Economist, though it as at the Times and the Sun where the treatment of May is at its most noticably rougher than in the Cameron era. 

Michael Gove, her old rival, is not only employed as a columnist by the Times; he enjoys the confidence and admiration of Rupert Murdoch. That the Times secured the first British interview with Donald Trump was a coup for Murdoch, an old associate of the president-elect, and for Gove, who conducted it. It left May in the unlovely position of making history as the first prime minister to be scooped to a first meeting with a new American president by a sitting MP in modern times. It also attested to a source of frustration among May’s allies that she is, for all her undoubted popularity, still ignored or doubted by much of the right-wing establishment.

That condescension partly explains why her words are often listened to briefly, acted on hastily and swiftly forgotten, hence the pound’s cycle of falling when she makes an intervention on Brexit and rising shortly thereafter. The Lancaster House speech was designed to break this pattern. Downing Street briefed the most potent paragraphs at the weekend so that the markets could absorb what she would say before she said it.

As a result, the pound rallied as May delivered her speech, which contained a commitment to a transitional deal that would come into effect after Britain has left the EU. Some financiers believe this arrangement could become permanent, which once again demonstrates how much they underestimate May’s ability to enforce her will.

Being underestimated by Cameron’s people, in Westminster and the City, has the unintended effect of shoring up Theresa May’s position. A prolonged and sustained bout of panic would increase the pressure for a soft landing, but its absence makes it harder for Labour to oppose her effectively, although it has largely acquiesced to the Tory plan for Brexit, at least as far as membership of the single market is concerned. 

Yet for all the plaudits that the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech attracted, for all her undoubted popularity in the country, she is in the anomalous position of being a Conservative Prime Minister who has priorities on the European stage other than the preservation of the City of London and to whom Rupert Murdoch is not a natural ally.

As such, she may find that her deadlier enemies come from the right.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.