Berlusconi ally quits over apartment allegations

A fresh corruption scandal cast a shadow on Silvio Berlusconi's government yesterday when a cabinet minister quit after an investigation into the purchase of his luxury apartment in Rome.

Prosecutors claim that economic development minister Claudio Scajola, one of the prime minister's closest allies, paid far below the market rate for the nine-room property overlooking the Colosseum. To make up the difference, they say an extra €900,000 (£775,000) was stumped up by a Rome businessman who has already been arrested as part of a wider investigation into crooked public contracts.

Mr Scajola, 62, said he was unaware that more than half the cost of the apartment was met by a series of 80 cheques sent by the businessman, Diego Anemone, to the sisters from whom Mr Scajola bought the property in 2004.

"As a minister, I could not live in a house paid in part by others," Mr Scajola told a press conference yesterday. "I have been suffering greatly for the past ten days, being in the centre of a media campaign without precedent, in a judicial inquiry in which I'm not under investigation." He said he had quit to defend himself. "And in order to defend myself I cannot continue to be a minister as I have for the past two years, giving my all."

Opposition leader Pier Luigi Bersani of the Democratic Party said, however, that Mr Scajola had made the "right choice" in stepping down, because his explanation "has never been convincing". Federico Centrone, the Perugia prosecutor, yesterday confirmed that Mr Scajola was not himself under investigation. The minister's name originally surfaced in a probe by magistrates in the central city of Perugia into irregularities in public works contracts to build the original site of last year's G8 summit in Sardinia.

That investigation led to the arrest of Mr Anemone and three other people, including the former head of the state public works office, Angelo Balducci, in February this year.

An investigators' report prepared for a Perugia court suggests that Mr Anemone arranged for €900,000 in cash to be converted into 80 cheques, which were handed over to Beatrice and Barbara Papa to cover the difference between the asking price and the €600,000 paid by Mr Scajola.

Lawyers for Mr Anemone have categorically denied any involvement on his part, saying the press reports were "totally made up" and without "a shred of proof". Political pundits yesterday saw Mr Scajola's resignation as another blow to the stability of Mr Berlusconi's coalition government, which has been dogged by infighting in the past few months. There was no immediate reaction to Mr Scajola's resignation from Mr Berlusconi, who only last week had urged the minister to stay on. Mr Scajola had been an important driver behind Italy's revival of nuclear energy.

However, by yesterday morning it appeared that the writing was on the wall for him, when the Berlusconi family newspaper, Il Giornale, joined the chorus of media and opposition politicians calling on him to resolve the controversy or quit. Mr Scajola is no stranger to unflattering headlines.

He was forced to resign as interior minister in a previous Berlusconi government in 2002, when he described as "a pain the ass" a government adviser killed by the Marxist militant group, the Red Brigades. The murdered man, Marco Biagi, was slain after being denied a police escort by Mr Scajola.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £30,000+

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for individual...

Recruitment Genius: IT Project Coordinator / Manager

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Advisor - OTE £95,000

£40000 - £95000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy