Rome, July 19 - Premier Enrico Letta on Friday called on the Senate to reject a no-confidence vote in Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano over the deportation of the family of a Kazakh dissident. Letta said it was "clear" Alfano had nothing to do with the expulsion and argued that rejecting the motion would be a vote of confidence in his left-right executive.
The government would be in danger of collapsing if Alfano, who is also the secretary of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party, failed to survive the confidence test.
That looks unlikely to happen as Letta's centre-left Democratic Party, the biggest group in parliament, voted to back Alfano at a party meeting on Thursday.
A group within the PD had wanted the party to join opposition groups in voting against the minister, despite the likelihood that this would have led to the PdL pulling its support from the government.
"We want to continue to build answers for this country," said Letta.
"This no vote will enable the government to work in the coming weeks," he added, citing a number of urgent matters on the cabinet's agenda. Letta told the Senate that his government was not underestimating the importance of the case, saying it was a cause for "embarrassment and disrepute" for Italy.
But he stressed that no one in the higher levels of government knew about the deportation until after it took place and stressed that the administration had behaved with "total transparency".
Alma Shalabayeva, wife of oligarch dissident Mukhtar Ablyazov Ablyazov, and their six-year-old daughter were apprehended in a nighttime raid by Italian police late in May.
They were rushed onto a private jet with Kazakh diplomats and flown back to a country whose human-rights record has been questioned by several organisations. Alfano's chief of staff at the interior ministry resigned over the scandal earlier this week. The government has revoked the deportation order and Alfano has ordered a revamp of the departments involved in the expulsion.
Letta said the Kazakhstan's ambassador to Rome had behaved in an "unheard-of" way by directly contacting interior ministry officials to pressure them conduct the raid, rather than going through the proper channels at the foreign ministry.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed its concern about the case on Thursday, with a statement issued by three experts called special rapporteurs. "The circumstances of the deportation give rise to the appearance that this was in fact an extraordinary rendition which is of great concern to us," the experts said. "The Italian authorities have an obligation, under international law, to provide for an effective remedy to the victim of the violation, in this case Ms. Shalabayeva and her daughter.
"Given the possible serious implications of this case, we call upon both the Italian and Kazakh authorities to cooperate and reach a diplomatic agreement to facilitate the rapid return of the deportees".
During his stints as premier Berlusconi helped foster lucrative commercial ties between Italy and energy-rich Kazakhstan.