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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea