Italy: Scandal-plagued minister quits government

Milan: Italian junior culture minister Vittorio Sgarbi announced his resignation on Friday amid a storm of scandals that has engulfed him in the past few months, including ongoing investigations into a stolen painting, potential conflicts of interests and vulgar insults and death wishes to an Italian reporter.

“I am resigning effective immediately as undersecretary and will inform [Italian Prime Minister Giorgia] Meloni,” Sgarbi said on the sidelines of an event in Milan.

The 71-year-old art critic and a member of Meloni’s government has been at the center of controversies for a large part of his political career. Last October, Italy’s antitrust authority started investigating Sgarbi for a potential conflict of interest for allegedly accepting large sums of money to appear at cultural events.

The minister on Friday said the antitrust authority sent him a “complex and confusing letter” barring him from speaking at art conferences — such as the one in Milan — and that he was therefore resigning from his government role. “From now on, I am Vittorio Sgarbi and that’s it,” he said.

In a separate scandal, prosecutors recently opened an investigation into Sgarbi for alleged laundering of stolen art — an accusation he denied and called “ridiculous.”

The probe follows an investigation published last December by Italian media outlet Il Fatto Quotidiano and Report, a Rai investigative TV series, which accused Sgarbi of being in possession of a stolen 17th-century painting and tampering with it to hide the theft.

Over the past few days, Sgarbi came under mounting pressure after he repeatedly insulted a journalist from Report during an interview over the investigation.

“If you die in a car accident, I’ll be happy. I hope you have an accident … you disgust me,” Sgarbi said, as seen on video, even at one point threatening to expose himself in front of the reporter.

On Friday, Sgarbi apologized to the journalist, saying he does not wish “cruelty or death” on anyone. But he also joked about being able to wish death upon others now that he is no longer a government official.

“I withdraw my death wish, I apologize for thinking that, and now I am no longer an undersecretary,” he said. “From now on, I will wish death without being responsible of being undersecretary.”

This is only the latest controversy to engulf Sgarbi and Meloni’s government. Last summer, Sgarbi came under fire for making sexist comments and boasting of his relationships with women during a speech in Rome.