It may not come a surprise that Italy doesn’t recognise de facto relationships. In the staunchly Catholic country, those who haven’t walked down the aisle are — as far as the state is concerned — simply two people hanging out at the same address.

Sure, it’s a tad old-fashioned, but that’s the way staff at the Italian Consulate in Brisbane like it. Indeed, legal recognition of de facto couples back in Italy could cause problems for Italian diplomats in the Sunshine State.

Here’s why.

The Italian Consulate leases the eighth floor of a George Street complex, which is part of the landmark Bank of New South Wales building. And even by pre-GFC standards, the rent is steep.

According to a real estate memorandum, the consulate is forking out almost $800 a square metre — that’s up to $240 more than comparable leases in the same building.

But having that kind of top-shelf tenant — locked in until 2017 — would no doubt give the landlord some bragging rights, particularly now that the building’s up for sale.

The landlord, by the way, is Highpoint Holdings, the company of the late property developer Lou Ferro. ASIC records reveal the company now has two directors: Peter and Michelle Ferro.

And this is where Italian marital laws come into play.

Lou’s daughter, Michelle Ferro, is also the partner of the man who — according to the real estate memorandum — put his name to the lease: vice-consul Antonio Colicchia. Ferro and Colicchia have two children and their names appear on DFAT’s list of Australian-based diplomats and their partners.

But it’s strictly de facto, not de jure. As a result, the Italian government paying a hefty rent to a company linked to the vice-consul’s partner isn’t a conflict of interest.

That, at least, is the theory of Italian consul Francesco Capecchi. “Mr Colicchia is in a convivenza more uxorio (de facto cohabitation), which in Italy is not recognised or disciplined by law,” Capecchi says. “Thus it does not produce any legal implications and creates no legal consequences.”

Meanwhile, Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rome told me it was “strengthening” an existing investigation into whether staff at its Brisbane consulate may have breached the country’s code of conduct for public servants.

As for Colicchia, he’s unlikely to pop the question any time soon.

*James Panichi is the producer of the National Interest, on ABC Radio National.

Peter Fray

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