A law professor put forward by the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and far-right League as their candidate to become Italy's prime minister has listed lecturing at the University of Malta among his international academic credentials, but the University of Malta does not know anything about him.
Giuseppe Conte listed teaching in dozens of courses in various universities, including a summer class at the University of Malta called “European Contract and Banking Law.”
The New York Times reported on Tuesday that this was especially relevant experience considering the potential Italian government’s agenda and the fear, based on the campaign promises and recent statements of the coalition partners, that it will not uphold contracts with the European Union on banking and other financial issues.
When contacted, a spokeswoman for the University of Malta said that the university has no record of Guiseppe Conte ever forming part of the resident academic staff.
"However this does not exclude that he may have been involved in lecturing duties during short courses organised in the summer of 1997 by the now defunct Foundation for International Studies (FIS) which was a separate entity that worked in close collaboration with the University of Malta," the spokeswoman said.
Times of Malta was told by a person present for Prof Conte's lectures that he remembers him lecturing 'at the old university building in Valletta'. (The old university was the seat of the FIS)
The League and 5-Star asked Italian President Sergio Mattarella on Monday to appoint Conte to lead their administration. Instead of endorsing their choice immediately, the head of state played for time, seeking further consultations.
In the meantime, questions have been raised about various details put forward by Conte, who says he "perfected his judicial studies" at numerous foreign institutions, including Cambridge University, New York University and Paris's Sorbonne.
The New York Times quoted an NYU spokeswoman as saying: "A person by that name does not show up in any of our records as either a student or faculty member."
She added he might have attended one- or two-day programmes, for which there were no records.
In one curriculum vitae posted on the parliament website, Conte says he studied at NYU every year from 2008 to 2012 "for periods of not less than a month".
Conte himself made no comment, but 5-Star issued a statement saying he had never claimed to have followed any specific course or to have received a masters degree from the university.
"Conte, like any researcher, went abroad to study, to deepen his knowledge, to perfect his English legal language skills," the party said. "So the international press and the Italian press are going wild over presumed qualifications that Conte has never claimed to have."
Cambridge University declined to comment on whether Conte had studied there, as he claimed, in September 2001 - a month when the university is normally closed for the summer break.
A university source said they had not found any trace of a visit, but said the professor might have attended a course prepared by a third party.
The Sorbonne said it was reviewing its records to see what research Conte might have carried out.
"If he didn't study at NYU, what guarantees are there that the rest of the CV is right? To start with a lie is certainly not the best way to be presented to the head of state as a possible premier," said Michele Anzaldi, a lawmaker with the centre-left Democratic Party.
Conte, 54, has taught law across Italy and has a full professorship in Florence. He does not have a PhD or a Masters degree, but has contributed to dozens of legal publications.
Italian newspapers said on Tuesday he was close to the Vatican Church and a devotee of Padre Pio.
There was no immediate word on when Mattarella might make his next move.