Luciano Benetton on Sunday denounced what he called a government "campaign" against his family since the 2018 collapse of the Genoa motorway bridge operated by a company in the Benetton business empire.
"I find it necessary to clarify a major misunderstanding," he wrote in an open letter published in several Italian newspapers. "No member of the Benetton family has ever managed Autostrade (per Italia -- ASPI)" -- the company that operated the failed bridge.
"I'm not trying to make excuses but these attacks are absurd," he wrote. "Whoever is at fault should pay, but this campaign against our family is unacceptable."
The letter was also addressed to several ministers and leaders of the Five Star Movement (M5S), part of Italy's ruling coalition, which has threatened for months to cancel ASPI concessions.
The Benetton family, best known for its fashion labels, owns 30 percent of the Atlantia group which controls ASPI, several of whose managers could face trial over the collapse of the Morandi bridge on August 14, 2018, a disaster that claimed 43 lives.
The other 70 percent is traded on the stock market, and is mainly held by "large sovereign funds" along with Italian and foreign investors, Benetton, 84, noted in the letter.
He accused M5S leader and Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio of "pointing the finger at the family as complicit in knowingly wanting to cut corners on the maintenance (of the bridge) like mafiosos."
Di Maio, in a Facebook post, dismissed Benetton's letter as "ridiculous".
He said the Benetton patriarch "enriched himself on the backs of Italians by turning a blind eye to the lack of maintenance work by his company."
Di Maio added: "For us the way forward is clear. The families of the victims want and deserve justice. The government will not stop: we will go all the way on the revocation of concessions."
In his letter, Benetton said press reports on safety lapses seen to have led to the collapse "surprised us as much as the public".
"We feel hurt as citizens, as entrepreneurs and as shareholders," he wrote.
Benetton acknowledged that the family had a responsibility in "having contributed to choosing a management (for ASPI) that turned out to be inadequate, a management that had full powers and the total trust of the shareholders."