The Father, the Son and the Sins of Italian Politics

Luigi Di Maio, Italy’s deputy prime minister, has a squeaky clean reputation, but his father has been accused of illegal activities. Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times

ROME — Luigi Di Maio used to believe that the sins of the father should be visited upon the son.

Then he became the son.

For years, Mr. Di Maio, a 32-year-old leader of Italy’s populist coalition government, attacked his political enemies by seeking to stain them with the alleged misconduct of their fathers. Now he has found himself in the midst of his own family drama. Recent news reports have charged that his father paid employees off the books and illegally built on his land outside Naples.

The violations, some of which the Di Maios have conceded, have hit close to home given that Mr. Di Maio, Italy’s squeaky clean deputy prime minister with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, also wears the hats of minister of labor and of economic development.

The scandal has prompted a feeding frenzy among Mr. Di Maio’s critics, who charge that his party’s mantras of “honesty” and “transparency” are rank with hypocrisy. After years of vicious, personal and dubious attacks spread through vast social media networks, the guilt-by-association and guilty-until-proven-innocent ethos of Italy’s populists now seems to endanger one of its most prominent leaders.

Late last month, the Italian news program “Le Iene,” or “Reservoir Dogs,” began a series of reports that featured former employees of Mr. Di Maio’s father, Antonio, recounting how they were paid partly off the books or were pressured not to report work injuries. The latest program, which aired Sunday, showed how Antonio Di Maio also appeared to have illegally built on his property outside Pomigliano D’Arco, the small town where Mr. Di Maio lived with his parents until leaving for Rome to join parliament.

When confronted with before-and-after aerial pictures of his father’s property, the populist leader suggested the buildings were always there, just previously camouflaged. He dismissed another apparently illegal structure as a simple stable. But the reporter, who subsequently received death threats from Five Star supporters on social media, produced photos showing Mr. Di Maio and his friends at a 2013 party relaxing in a pool on the property and hanging out in the supposed stall’s kitchen.

As local authorities have investigated the buildings, which they want to demolish, Mr. Di Maio has acknowledged that “my father made mistakes in his life.” He also added that “for years I didn’t even speak with him” and said that “I distance myself from this behavior, but he is still my father.”

But Mr. Di Maio has come under pressure.

On Monday, the elder Di Maio, who dabbled in post-fascist politics, posted a painful video on his Facebook page that was subsequently spread across Five Star social media.

Mr. Di Maio’s father, Antonio, at his son’s homecoming to celebrate the Five Star Movement’s electoral results in March.

In the video, the elder Mr. Di Maio, sitting at a desk with a fax machine, calculator and yellow Post-it Notes, woodenly reads a statement in which he begs forgiveness and describes himself as a small-business man who, “like every father,” did what he could to provide for his family.

“I’m sorry for…

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