Prosecutors seek trial for Italian minister over alleged fraud

FILE PHOTO: Italy's newly appointed Minister of Tourism Santanche attends a swearing-in ceremony at the Quirinale Palace, in Rome

MILAN (Reuters) - Italian prosecutors said on Friday they wanted to charge Tourism Minister Daniela Santanche for alleged benefit fraud at her former publishing company during the COVID pandemic.

A Milan judge will now have to decide if there is sufficient evidence to indict Santanche, a prominent member of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's ruling Brothers of Italy party.

Santanche has always denied wrongdoing. She made no immediate comment after prosecutors issued a statement saying that they had formally requested trial both for her and an unspecified number of other suspects.

The case revolves around allegations her Visibilia company, which she sold off before entering government in 2022, received layoff funds during the COVID crisis for 13 staff members who were not informed of the payments and instead continued to work.

Going by the nickname "the pythoness", Santanche is known for her brash, outspoken style and is one of the more visible members of the Meloni government.

She is also under investigation for alleged falsification of financial statements in another probe tied to Visibilia -- a media publisher and advertising agency where she served as chair and CEO until November 2021.

She remained a major shareholder until 2022.

Opposition parties have called for her resignation and last month easily won a motion-of-no-confidence brought against her in parliament.

(Reporting by Emilio Parodi; Writing by Crispian Balmer, William Maclean)