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
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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: Partner Manager - EMEA

£50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Partner Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Regional Sales Manager - OTE £100,000

£45000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Regional Sales Manager is re...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The company provides IT support...

Recruitment Genius: IT Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This manager is for a successfu...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific