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Berlusconi aide in corruption probe

February 10, 2010

By Guy Dinmore in Rome

Published: February 10 2010

Guido Bertolaso, right-hand man to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, was informed yesterday by police that he was under investigation in connection with a probe into suspected corruption in the construction of facilities for last year’s G8 summit hosted by Italy.

Mr Bertolaso immediately offered his resignation as head of the powerful Civil Protection agency but Mr Berlusconi, with the support of the cabinet, declined it.

Police arrested four people in connection with the investigation, including Angelo Balducci, a senior official in charge of public works. Special carabinieri forces were reported to have searched Mr Bertolaso’s home and office. Media reported that more than 20 people were under investigation, including a Rome magistrate.

The Civil Protection agency deals mainly with natural disasters and emergencies, but is also deployed to organise major state events, including the logisitics for the G8 heads of state summit last July.

Italian media reported that prosecutors in Florence were investigating suspected corruption in awarding contracts for the construction of summit facilities on the small island of La Maddalena off Sardinia. Little information was made public at the time for what officials said were reasons of state security

Last April Mr Berlusconi abruptly switched the summit venue from La Maddalena to a police barracks in L’Aquila, saying he was wanted to draw attention to the central city’s plight after a devastating earthquake earlier that month. However commentators also suggested that the venue was moved because La Maddalena was not ready. Most facilities, built on the site of a former naval base, are still unfinished after an expenditure of 327m euros, according to media reports.

Mr Bertolaso, one of Mr Berlusconi’s most trusted and capable aides, is the public face of the government in times of crisis, well known for his organisation of the rescue and reconstruction operation in L’Aquila and for tackling the Naples rubbish crisis in early 2008 that played an important part in Mr Berlusconi’s election victory that spring.

Last month Mr Berlusconi spoke of giving Mr Bertolaso the rank of minister, voicing support for his aide just days after he had caused a diplomatic incident by making scathing criticism of the US-led relief effort in Haiti.

The government has tabled legislation that would give greater resources to the Civil Protection agency and change its status. Critics say the reorganisation would provide less transparency in issuing contracts. The centre-left opposition on Wednesday called for the legislation to be put on hold because of the corruption investigation.

Mr Bertolaso, 59, said he would give his full cooperation.

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