ROME -- Less than two years after the collapse of the Morandi Bridge in Genoa killed 43 people, Italy will draw a line under the tragedy on Monday when it inaugurates a replacement.
But that public celebration has been accompanied by a behind-the-scenes deal that will reshape the running of Italy's highways as it exacts retribution on the former bridge's managers.
The 5-Star Movement, the populist party that leads Italy's government, has leveraged the lingering anger over the calamity to engineer the transfer of the controlling share of the company that managed the bridge, Autostrade per l'Italia from private hands back to those of the state.
The deal for control of Autostrade, which manages more than half of Italy's 4,000 miles of toll roads and was blamed for failing to keep the bridge safe, has yet to be finalized, but it was meant to specifically punish its majority shareholder, the Benetton family.
For the 5-Star party, the accord is a political triumph, a trophy to exhibit to its dwindling supporters ahead of elections in September in the Liguria region, where Genoa is the capital. But some critics say that the ways Autostrade's contract was changed by the government has sent a troubling message to potential investors in a country that has long shown itself capricious about business rules.
There was also the question of whether the government was in fact up to running an aging highway and infrastructure system badly in need of investment -- one of the reasons its management had been privatized in the first place.
"From the political point of view it's a masterpiece," said Alberto Mingardi, director of the Bruno Leoni Institute, an Italian think tank. "The 5-Star can tell their militant voters that they've brought home a very prestigious scalp," he said.
But in terms of rule of law and transparency, the agreement had been a disaster, he said.
"From the point of view of the prime minister it's a great coup, but many political operations have trodden on rights," Mingardi said.
When the middle-of-the-night accord was reached between the government and Autostrade in July, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said in a post on Facebook that it affirmed a principle "trampled in the past" -- that public infrastructure is a precious public good that must be managed responsibly and guarantee security and efficient service."
The 5-Star Movement and other critics of Autostrade have long contended that the Benettons, originally known for their retail clothing chain, had been given a sweetheart deal when part of the national highway authority was privatized in the 1990s.
The family did not do itself favors or engender public sympathy when it waited two days after the bridge collapse to express its condolences to the victims, through Edizione, the family holding company.
Luigi Di Maio, Italy's foreign minister and a prominent 5-Star leader, used Facebook to vaunt the deal, which would vastly reduce the stake of the Benetton-controlled infrastructure group Atlantia, which controls 88% of Autostrade, to allow the government to gain control. The Benettons now own 26.6% of Autostrade and their share is expected to drop to around 11%.
"The Benettons have accepted the government's conditions," Di Maio said. "This means the Benettons will no longer manage our highways. It was our main goal and we achieved it."
The collapse of the bridge, built in the 1960s, is the subject of a criminal inquiry, and employees of Autostrade as well as officials from the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport are under investigation.