Transsexual blackmail plot forces Governor of Lazio to step down

A scandal has rocked Italy's main opposition party on the eve of today's nationwide primary designed to select a new leader and relaunch the party's sagging fortunes.

According to widespread media reports, a video has come to light showing the centre-left Governor of the Lazio region, Piero Marrazzo, in the company of a transsexual in a Rome apartment. Four policemen have been arrested for allegedly attempting to blackmail Mr Marrazzo, 51. An investigation is under way.

The video has not been publicly seen and officials have not confirmed its existence. Mr Marrazzo was quoted in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica saying that "the video is fake" and that he is the victim of a smear campaign. However, in response to mounting pressure, he said yesterday that he was stepping aside from the high-profile job of Governor of Lazio, which includes Rome, and was leaving day-to-day responsibilities in the hands of his deputy.

In a statement he said that the move paved the way for his resignation. "It's a personal case in which weaknesses that have to do with my private sphere have come into play," Mr Marrazzo said. "The mistakes I have made have in no way interfered with my public activity."

The situation had become of such public significance, he added, that his staying on would be "inappropriate". The governor, who is married and has three daughters, said he always had his family's best interest in mind.

The case made the front pages of all major Italian newspapers yesterday and dominated TV news bulletins. Rome prosecutors have not discussed the case publicly. Mr Marrazzo's lawyer could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The scandal exploded just days before centre-left supporters are to vote for a new secretary in an attempt to relaunch the image of the battered and highly fractious Democratic Party.

The party has been in disarray since losing elections to Silvio Berlusconi's conservative People of Freedom coalition in April 2008.