Berlusconi minister arrested for aiding mafia fugitive

AFP , Thursday 8 May 2014

Italian Industry Minister Claudio Scajola looks on during a news conference in Rome in this May 4, 2010 (Photo: Reuters)

Italian police arrested a scandal-hit former minister with close ties to ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi on Thursday, accusing him of attempting to aid and abet a fugitive businessman convicted of mafia ties.

Claudio Scajola, who held top posts including serving as interior and industry minister under successive Berlusconi governments, has long been dogged by scandals.

He was forced to resign in 2010 over allegations that he bought a luxury flat next to Rome's Colosseum with bribes but was later cleared after claiming he did not know it was being paid for by someone else.

In 2002 he resigned as interior minister after being caught in a wire-tap vilifying Marco Biagi, a government consultant on labour law who had been assassinated by the extreme-left Red Brigades shortly after Scajola had taken away his police escort.

The 66-year-old is now accused of attempting to protect Amedeo Matacena, a Calabrian businessman who fled Italy for Dubai in 2013 after being sentenced to five years in prison for links to the 'Ndrangheta mafia network.

Matacena is still in Dubai and fighting extradition.

Scajola and others "assisted businessman Matacena in hiding his assets and helping him flee abroad", anti-mafia prosecutors in Reggio Calabria in southern Italy said in a statement.

Police arrested Scajola at dawn in a Rome hotel and conducted raids across Italy, seizing assets worth around 50 million euros ($70 million).

Berlusconi said he was "sorry and saddened" by the news of his old ally's arrest. Last month, another close friend facing definitive conviction for association with the mafia was arrested on the run in Lebanon.

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