Watchdog fiddles with €25m lifeline as Colosseum crumbles

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The Independent Online

Plans to restore Rome's crumbling Colosseum have hit another snag, after Italy's anti-trust watchdog declared that a €25m lifeline thrown by a luxury goods company breaks competition laws.

The Italian shoe magnate, Diego Della Valle, of Tod's leather goods, stepped up last January and said he would pay most of the restoration costs in exchange for advertising rights at the site that attracts millions of tourists a year.

The precarious state of the amphitheatre, built between 70 and 80AD, was underlined in 2009 when three large chunks fell off. With the landmark discoloured by pollution from Rome's constant traffic and rocked by vibrations from a nearby metro line, experts say the costly restoration process must begin soon.

But the anti-trust authority has warned that the private negotiations last year between the authorities in charge of the Colosseum and Tod's "may have created an undue restriction in competition that might potentially have brought a better offer".

The Culture Minister, Lorenzo Ornaghi, must respond to the watchdog's objections within two months. But some centre-right politicians were quick yesterday to criticise the anti-trust authority's comments.

Francesco Giro, who was a junior culture minister under Silvio Berlusconi's premiership, blamed bias against private involvement for the latest development.

"There will be no restoration and the Colosseum will fall to pieces," he said. "The 'nays' have won because they rejected the idea that the project would be sponsored by an important private company.

"Someone obviously was not pleased the sponsor was Diego Della Valle and I do not believe the law has anything to do with the decision."

Last month, restoration experts claimed attempts to save the Colosseum were being undermined by a cost-cutting decision to employ ordinary builders to perform the delicate overhaul. The director of the Colosseum, Rossella Rea, has insisted that specialists are being used.