The Italian government is seeking to discover the identities of five deputies who are alleged to have received a relief payment intended to support the self-employed during the coronavirus lockdown.
A report in the newspaper La Repubblica on Sunday also revealed that 2,000 regional and local politicians applied to receive the bonus, which ranged between €600 (£540) and €1,000, from INPS, Italy’s social security and pensions agency.
The revelation has provoked outrage in Italy, with leaders of all parties calling for the identities of the parliamentarians, who are protected by a privacy law, to be made public and for them to resign.
It is suspected that three of the parliamentarians are with the far-right League party, one is with the Five Star Movement (M5S), ruling nationally alongside the Democratic party, and one is a member of Italia Viva, the party set up last year by the former prime minister Matteo Renzi.
The scandal is particularly jarring for ordinary Italians, thousands of whom have not received the payments they are entitled to through the government furlough scheme.
Anita Pirovano, a Milan councillor and member of the leftwing Left Ecology Freedom party, on Monday admitted she received the benefit. “I’m a psychologist, I have a mortgage, I do the shopping, I maintain my daughter and occasionally I like to go out and go on holiday. I wouldn’t be able to make a living as a politician.”
Luigi Di Maio, the foreign minister and former M5S leader, said the five deputies, who earn a salary of €13,000 a month as politicians, should come forward and confess.
“Italians have the right to know who has betrayed their trust,” he wrote on Facebook. “These people no longer have the right to hold public office. They have gone against the country during the most difficult period. They have soiled Italy’s name around the world … They cannot and must not get away with it.”
Roberto Fico, a fellow M5S member and the lower house speaker, called on the deputies to return the money. “Because as representatives of the people we have moral as well as legal obligations,” he added.
Matteo Salvini, who leads the League, said: “That a parliamentarian can ask for €600 destined for the self-employed is shameful.” Salvini then went on to blame government regulations for allowing it to happen.
Nicola Zingaretti, the leader of the Democratic party, described the deputies as “shameful” while Teresa Bellanova, the agriculture minister and Italia Viva member, called on them to resign regardless of “who they are or which party they belong to”.
Italians took to social media to share their indignation, branding the deputies as “crafty” and accompanying posts with the hashtag #fuoriinomi (out with their names).
The bonus scheme was intended to support people with a partita IVA, or VAT number, which includes the self-employed and other categories of workers who work independently, including freelance journalists.
The deputies were able to claim the benefit because they too have VAT numbers, so technically they have not done anything illegal.
The claims were uncovered by INPS’s anti-fraud unit.