MILAN: A three-time former minister in Silvio Berlusconi's center-right governments was arrested Thursday in a luxury Rome hotel for allegedly helping a political ally convicted of Mafia collusion flee abroad.
Claudio Scajola was among six suspects accused of having helped Amedeo Matacena to flee to Dubai, evading a five-year jail sentence, and also of trying to organize political asylum for the fugitive, anti-Mafia prosecutor Arturo de Felice told Sky TG24.
Matacena was declared a fugitive last summer. A former lawmaker in Berlusconi's party, he operates a ferry company in the Strait of Messina and was tried for ties with the Calabrian 'ndrangheta crime syndicate.
Authorities confiscated 50 million euros in property belonging to Matacena, and executed arrest warrants for five other people, including Scajola's secretary and Matacena's wife. Two of the suspects were abroad.
Berlusconi told private radio Capital that he was "pained" by Scajola's arrest, and noted that the longtime ally was not a Forza Italia candidate in the upcoming European elections because of surveys indicated that running him would have hurt results.
Scajola resigned in 2010 as industry minister amid allegations that he paid far below market value for a luxury apartment overlooking the Colosseum in Rome. He was later tried, and acquitted of wrongdoing. He previously was interior minister and minister charged with executing the government's program.
"His exclusion from the list (of candidates) was not in any way related to any investigation, which we couldn't have been aware of, nor was it related to past cases, of which he has been completely exonerated," Forza Italia Senator Lucio Malan told Sky TG 24.
Scajola is the second close Berlusconi aide under judicial scrutiny. Marcello Dell'Utri has been declared a fugitive in Italy and detained in Lebanon, where he fled as a decision neared on his final appeal to a conviction of Mafia association.