Suspicious death of Italian MEP’s husband raises questions of foul play

An Italian MEP claims her husband was murdered as authorities continue to investigate the death of Angelo Onorato, an architect whose body was found on the side of a road on the outskirts of Palermo on Saturday.

After Francesca Donato couldn’t reach her partner, she located Onorato’s Land Rover near the highway connecting Palermo and Mazara del Vallo using his iPhone’s GPS.

A passer-by alerted the police after hearing the screams of Donato and her daughter Carolina, who found the body inside the vehicle.

While an initial police report says there were no signs of struggle, Donato — a former Lega politician turned Christian Democrat — claims that Onorato was, in fact, killed. Their daughter Carolina echoed Donato’s words, saying, “no one dare say or even think that my father committed suicide,” in a social media post. “They killed him.”

“He was not a person who would have ever left his family like this, and above all, as I personally found him together with my mother, I can tell you that it was not a suicide but a murder,” she said.

The family’s lawyer, Vincenzo Lo Re, said in a statement he was “convinced that the Palermo Prosecutor’s Office will reach (the same) conclusion”.

Italian media reported that the far-right populist MEP discovered a letter in the car stating that if anything happened to Onorato, 56, his “lawyer knows everything.” Donato has handed the note over to the police as evidence.

Deputy Prosecutor Ennio Patrigni, in charge of the investigation, ordered an autopsy, which is expected to be carried out on Monday.

The CCTV footage from the street has been deemed unusable as the Land Rover was parked beyond its range, and the analysis of the footage showed no other vehicles or individuals approaching the parked vehicle. 

However, the authorities could not establish whether someone else was in the car with Onorato or whether the person could have left the scene without being seen by surveillance cameras.

Who is Francesca Donato?

Donato has been an MEP since 2019 after running for the far-right Lega party in Palermo. Her first shot at the European Parliament in 2014, also as a candidate of populist Matteo Salvini’s party, failed after she obtained about 6,000 votes. 

In the past, she campaigned under the banner of “Euroexit”, which called for Italy to drop the euro and leave the eurozone. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Donato became a vocal anti-vaxxer, criticising the government’s green pass policies. 

Donato caused a scandal in 2021 when she compared the slogan “the vaccine makes you free” with Arbeit macht frei, an infamous Nazi slogan seen above the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp, translated as “Work sets you free”. The Auschwitz Memorial Museum slammed her comments, asking Donato not to exploit political facts for political goals.

She has also spread various conspiracy theories on COVID-19 and vaccines, such as accusing drug maker Pfizer of producing products “extremely harmful to health” and claiming that the death of Leonardo Ditta, an Italian doctor, was linked to his COVID vaccination. She was forced to apologise to Ditta’s family following the fallout over her words.

After leaving Lega in 2021, she became an independent MEP, also departing from the Identity and Democracy (ID) parliamentary group. She has since run for the mayor of Palermo but was unsuccessful in her bid.

Donato then joined the Christian Democracy of Salvatore Totò Cuffaro, former president of the Sicilian region and Italian MP. Cuffaro had previously been convicted of seven years in prison for aiding and abetting the mafia and disclosing official secrets.

Donato’s husband, Onorato — an architect and entrepreneur — has allegedly requested a gun permit after receiving complaints over a development near Palermo’s Punta Raisi airport. 

He was on his way to the site on Saturday to resolve a problem, “hopefully in a friendly way,” Onorato’s family said. Police have taken his mobile phone, computer, and other equipment for further investigation.

The family excluded the possibility of him being under financial duress.

In the meantime, Donato asked everyone to refrain from speculating about the causes of Onorato’s death. “Let’s let the police do their job,” she said in a post on X on Monday.

Donato will not stand for re-election in the upcoming European elections in June.

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