Berlusconi ally to face corruption allegations

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The Independent Online

The Italian who became a national hero after leading the rescue mission to earthquake-torn L'Aquila last year is the latest high-profile figure to become a suspect in a sex and corruption scandal.

Civil Protection chief Guido Bertolaso yesterday quit his post after it emerged that he was under investigation as part of a huge probe into corrupt contracts, sex parties and kickbacks surrounding the construction of a €327m (£287m) complex in Sardinia, built before the L'Aquila quake, in order to host last year's G8 summit.

The complex, whose construction Bertolaso oversaw, was never used; at the last minute, Premier Silvio Berlusconi decided to switch the location of the G8 meeting to the devastated city of L'Aquila to boost the morale of locals, and some opponents claimed, his own poll ratings.

Bertolasco went on to win plaudits for his emergency work in L'Aquila. But ironically, the incomplete site, which was never used and lies rotting on the island of La Maddalena just off the Sardinian coast, has now come back to haunt him.

Yesterday investigating judges announced he was under investigation as part of the probe into the way €327m in public contracts were handed out for the building of G8 facilities on the island. Bertolaso, 59, resigned immediately after police searched the office of his civil protection department in Rome and handed him a formal notice that he was being investigated.

In a statement released by his office, Bertolaso said he was stepping down to "not to create any complications for investigators". He denied any wrongdoing and said he would also ask to speak to investigating prosecutors as soon as possible, "to give them any information I have".

Mr Berlusconi, who has consistently praised Bertolaso for his handling of the Naples refuse emergency as well as his response to last April's earthquake in L'Aquila, said he was "convinced the civil protection chief would be able to clear everything up" and asked him not to resign.

Things took a Berlusconi-esque turn for the worse yesterday evening, however, when it emerged that magistrates suspected Bertolasco had enjoyed participating in sex parties, described on wire-tapped conversations as "mega-galactic", in payment for aiding the corrupt allocation of contracts.

On Tuesday, police had arrested the head of the state public works office, Angelo Balducci, on corruption charges in connection with the same probe. Also arrested were Rome businessman Diego Anemone, the Tuscany region's public works contractor Fabio De Santis, and state official Mauro Della Giovampaola.

News agency Ansa quoted judicial sources in Florence, where the probe is being coordinated, as saying that the Rome prosecutor, Achille Poro, was also under investigation.

€327m

Cost of building complex in Sardinia to host G8 summit. The site was never used.

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