Rome Mayor Acquitted on Lying Charge, to Relief of Five Star Movement

ROME — Rome’s embattled mayor was acquitted on Saturday of charges of lying about a city hall appointment, a case that threatened her career as well as the credibility of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement she represents.

A judge found that no crime had been committed when the mayor, Virginia Raggi, appointed the brother of her top aide to a prestigious tourism position at the beginning of her tenure in 2016.

“This sentence wipes away two years of political mud,” Ms. Raggi told reporters outside Rome’s court. “I am going ahead with our heads high for Rome, my beloved city, and all residents.”

Prosecutors had sought a 10-month prison term on charges that Ms. Raggi had lied to anti-corruption officials when they questioned her about the appointment. Ms. Raggi said that the choice was hers alone, while prosecutors argued that it had been orchestrated by her aide.

Had Ms. Raggi been convicted, she would have faced the loss of her position as mayor. Under the Five Star Movement’s rules, no member convicted of a crime may stay in office, even pending appeal.

The verdict was saluted as a victory by Luigi Di Maio, Italy’s vice prime minister and the political leader of the Five Star Movement, which governs in an increasingly tense coalition with the anti-immigrant League of Matteo Salvini.

“Happy to always have defended you, and always believed in you,” Mr. Di Maio wrote in a blog post on the Movement’s website.

“The real plague of this country is the vast majority of intellectually and morally corrupt media,” Mr. Di Maio added.

Such journalists were trying to topple the government, he said, with the specific strategy of “glorifying the League and always butchering the Movement.”

The comment betrayed Five Star’s difficulty in keeping up with its increasing popular coalition partner. A recent survey showed that Five Star is losing support even as it is rising for the League and Mr. Salvini, the deputy prime minister and interior minister.

Mr. Salvini’s tough immigration policies and his image of Italy’s strongman are appealing to Italian voters: 30 percent would now vote for the League.

Political observers noted that, if Ms. Raggi had been made to quit, Mr. Salvini might have tried to take the high-profile position of running Italy’s capital for his own party.

Regardless of the criminal case against her, Ms. Raggi is under constant pressure over a sense of decay in the city, where basic services like garbage collection are spotty in many neighborhoods and the transportation company is on the constant verge of financial collapse. In the past six months, a bus caught fire in the city center and a metro escalator packed with Russian soccer fans collapsed, wounding dozens.

This weekend, Romans vote in a nonbinding referendum on whether they want the city’s transportation services to be privatized.

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