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Italian minister quits over corruption scandal

May 4, 2010

By Guy Dinmore in Rome

Claudio Scajola after resigning as industry minister

Claudio Scajola after resigning as industry minister

Published: May 4 2010

Claudio Scajola, Italy’s industry minister, resigned on Tuesday over the latest alleged corruption scandal to rock Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right government.

Mr Scajola, who has been close to the prime minister since the mid-1990s, announced his resignation at a press conference, denying allegations that he had bought a luxury apartment with a view of Rome’s Colosseum in 2004 using money provided illegally by a businessman who was arrested in February.

Mr Scajola, 62, said he could no longer continue as minister and defend himself against what he called an unprecedented media campaign. “My resignation will allow the government to move forward,” he said.

The minister’s position, in doubt for some days, became critical on Tuesday when even pro-government newspapers, including Il Giornale which is part of the Berlusconi family media empire, raised doubts over his repeated denials. “Clarify or resign,” Il Giornale’s banner headline declared.

Mr Scajola was a key minister in the government, overseeing Italy’s plans to relaunch its nuclear power industry and leading talks with carmaker Fiat over its expansion plans in Italy that include closing a plant in Sicily.

The minister insists he paid €600,000 for the 180 squ m flat and that he knew nothing about alleged additional payments to the owners of €900,000 in 80 cheques that came from an account belonging to Diego Anemone, a Rome construction entrepreneur.

“If I were to find out that my house has been paid by others without knowing the reasons … my lawyers would proceed to cancel the contract. I could not live in a house paid by others,” Mr Scajola said.

Mr Anemone was one of four people arrested in February in an investigation led by prosecutors in Perugia into alleged cash and sexual favours paid to civil servants and politicians in return for state construction contracts, including the hosting of last year’s G8 summit.

Mr Scajola is the first minister in Mr Berlusconi’s two-year-old government to resign over alleged corruption. Mr Berlusconi, 73, faces two trials on charges of corruption and tax fraud but will not need to face the courts thanks to a so-called “legitimate impediment” law passed in March that allows all ministers to put off court appearances in order to attend to their official duties.

Mr Berlusconi has stood by other key allies involved in the investigation into Mr Anemone, including Guido Bertolaso, head of the Civil Protection agency and organiser of the G8 summit who has denied any wrongdoing.

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