Italy bridge collapse trial opens four years after tragedy
The trial in the case of the Genoa bridge that collapsed in 2018, killing 43 people, opens Thursday in Italy, involving 59 defendants being prosecuted for manslaughter and undermining transport safety.
The Morandi bridge, part of a key highway between Italy and France, gave way in torrential rain on August 14 four years ago, sending dozens of vehicles and their passengers tumbling into the abyss.
The tragedy shone a spotlight on the state of Italy’s transport infrastructure. Autostrade per l’Italia (ASPI), which runs almost half of the country’s motorway network, is accused of failing to maintain the bridge that was inaugurated in 1967.
For one of the prosecutors, Walter Cotugno, “the Morandi bridge was a time bomb”.
“You could hear the ticking, but you didn’t know when it was going to explode,” he said in February.
Cotugno is convinced that the directors of Autostrade and the engineering company Spea, in charge of maintenance, “were aware of the risk of collapse”, but remained reluctant to finance work in order to “preserve the dividends” of shareholders.
Most of the defendants summoned by the Genoa court are executives and technicians of the two companies.
Among them are the general manager of Autostrade at the time, Giovanni Castellucci, the former head of Spea, Antonino Galata, and officials of the Ministry of Infrastructure.
‘Recognition of responsibility’
While Castellucci’s lawyers believe that the indictment “will fall like an autumn leaf”, the prosecution counts on its key witness, Roberto Tomasi, Castellucci’s successor and a high-ranking Autostrade executive since 2015.
At the time of the tragedy, Autostrade belonged to the Atlantia group, controlled by the wealthy Benetton family. Put under pressure by the political class and popular indignation, the family gave up its stake to the state last May.
Even though their former directors are in the dock, Autostrade and Spea will escape the trial, thanks to an out-of-court settlement with the public prosecutor’s office, which provides for a payment of 29 million euros ($30 million) to the state.
For Raffaele Caruso, lawyer for the committee of relatives of the Morandi bridge’s victims, this agreement “constitutes a first recognition of responsibility” on the part of the two companies.
“This is one of the most important trials in the recent history of Italy, in terms of the number of defendants, the scale of the tragedy and in terms of the wound inflicted on a whole city,” he told AFP.