Morandi Bridge: pressure to cut costs led to disaster?
GENOA – Further revelations in the Morandi Bridge investigation suggest that attempts to save money on maintenance owing to a deal with German and Chinese companies may have played a role in bringing about the disaster, La Stampa reports.
Benetton sold nearly 12 per cent of Autostrade per l’Italia (Aspi) on April 28 2017. 6.79 per cent went to a consortium run by German company Allianz Group, the rest to the Silk Road Fund, which is owned by the Chinese government for investment in countries along China’s One Belt, One Road initiative.
According to the prosecutor’s office of Genoa, this financial risk could have had a role in the management of the safety of Italian infrastructure, including the Morandi Bridge, which collapsed on August 14 2018, killing 43 people.
Over a year before the disaster, Michele Donferri Mitelli, one of Aspi’s most important directors, was recorded saying:
“I have to spend the smallest amount possible… the Germans have come in… the Chinese have come in… I have to reduce costs by the maximum.”
The recording was found in the computer of Marco Vezil, a director of Spea, a company which worked on the monitoring of viaducts on behalf of Aspi.
Vezil secretly recorded every meeting, notes La Stampa, leading investigators to ask whether he was trying to protect himself from the possible consequences of the decisions being taken.
A Companies and Exchange Commission (Consob) document of July 16 2017 explains how the agreement undersigned by Aspi declares that the total expenditure commitments must remain unchanged. According to La Stampa, it is highly probable that the need to keep costs down stemmed from this agreement.
At a further summit between Aspi and Spea, held October 24 2017, Donferri asked the technicians to lower the risk evaluations they had made for some viaducts. "You have to bring these down... Now rewrite," he said at the meeting.
This shows the “finality of profit in Donferri’s directives regarding the marking of defects of the deteriorated works,” said the judge, quoted in La Stampa.
The falsification of reports, explains a source from the investigation, creates the possibility that associates could ask for damages from Aspi, if the state of the roads was misrepresented at the time of the sale.
Aspi started procedures to bring forward the restructuring of Morandi Bridge in autumn 2017. The communications to the Transport and Infrastructure Ministry suggest a haste that was not completely justified by the safety evaluations, says La Stampa.