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.

Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleThe idea has been greeted enthusiastically by the party's MPs
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
i100(More than you think)
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey


Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game