ROME—The Italian Ministry of Education, Universities, and Research plans to investigate claims that some of its officials have systematically assigned funding worth hundreds of millions of euros, part of it for research and innovation, in exchange for bribes. The accusations, laid out in detail in a document passed to the newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano by an anonymous source, concern development funding from the European Union, which was distributed to companies in the south of Italy by the research ministry.
The ministry serves as the national hub for €6.2 billion worth of so-called Structural Funds, given to Italy by the European Union for the period of 2007 to 2013. These funds come from a massive pot used primarily to simulate the economy in Europe's poorer regions through investments in businesses, infrastructure, research and development, energy, et cetera. The file obtained by the newspaper, thought to be written by an official within the ministry, describes how some of that funding is assigned not on the basis of merit but to firms that provide ministry employees with cash, consultancies, and other benefits. How much of the money was earmarked for science is unclear.
This corruption is described as systematic, reportedly being carried out by a "gang" in the "upper floors" of the ministry acting together with external collaborators and consultants. The officials, who allegedly include close collaborators of the current and former research ministers Francesco Profumo and Mariastella Gelmini, are listed by name in the document. They are said to have set up calls for funding proposals designed deliberately to favor "friendly companies" and in some cases to have readmitted bids that had already been ruled out by independent panels of scientific or financial experts.
Il Fatto Quotidiano quoted the ministry's research director general, Emanuele Fidora, as saying that the allegations should be treated with caution but that their level of detail "makes one fear that there is some truth" to them. Indeed, shortly after the article was published, the research ministry issued a press release in which it said it was not aware of the contents of the dossier but would investigate the accusations. It said inquiries will be carried out both by the ministry itself and by the State General Accountant.