ROME Italy's anti-establishment 5-Star Movement said on Monday it would not automatically require its politicians to step down if they come under legal investigation, prompting critics to accuse it of hypocrisy.
Italy's largest opposition group presents itself as a squeaky-clean counterweight to mainstream parties, which have repeatedly come under corruption probes for almost 25 years.
Critics said founder Beppe Grillo was softening his stance now that the movement had taken charge of large towns and cities and was running into legal difficulties.
In a six-point "behavioural code" posted on his blog, Grillo said every 5-Star official who came under investigation must immediately inform the movement's central committees, but a ruling would not automatically be made.
Grillo said all parliamentarians must be "ethically irreproachable", and it would be up to the 5-Star's central committees to evaluate this separately from the legal process.
Maurizio Gasparri, a member of former premier Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, tweeted: "New laws for little Grillos. If the person under investigation is from another party, immediate stoning. If it's one of them, they're untouchable."
Last year, 5-Star suspended Federico Pizzarotti, who handed the movement a big early victory when he was elected mayor of the northern city of Parma, saying he had kept secret the fact he was placed under investigation for abuse of office.
Pizzarotti, who denied any wrongdoing and later left the 5-Star, wrote on Facebook on Monday that his suspension had been "illegitimate" because at the time 5-Star had no rules on suspensions and no code of conduct.
Other political rivals said Grillo was trying to protect the mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, who has declined to comment on reports she is set to be placed under investigation over appointments since she took office six month ago.
"Grillo launches a Save-Raggi code," tweeted Michele Anzaldi, a deputy from the ruling Democratic Party (PD).
Being placed under investigation in Italy does not imply guilt and does not necessarily lead to a trial. In some cases it is an obligatory formality for magistrates to open a case.
(Reporting by Crispian Balmer and Isla Binnie; Editing by Philip Pullella and Robin Pomeroy)