MILAN (AP) — A former minister in several of Silvio Berlusconi's center-right governments was arrested Thursday in a luxury Rome hotel for allegedly helping a prominent businessman convicted of Mafia association flee abroad.
Claudio Scajola was accused of helping political ally Amedeo Matacena flee to Dubai last summer to avoid a five-year jail sentence and of then trying to arrange asylum for him and relatives in Lebanon using government contacts, Reggio Calabria prosecutor Federico Cafiero De Raho told a news conference.
"We are not talking about a simple telephone call. It's much more than that," said De Raho, who described the two men's close ties. "There is a very close relationship between Scajola, Matacena's wife and the other suspects."
Matacena was declared a fugitive last summer after Italy's highest court confirmed his conviction. 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.
Along with Scajola, five others were the target of arrest warrants, including Matacena's wife and Scajola's secretary. The accusations included also trying to hide Matacena's wealth and authorities said there are indications much of it has been stashed abroad in Luxembourg and even Africa.
Authorities confiscated 50 million euros ($70 million) in property belonging to Matacena.
Berlusconi told private radio Capital that he was "pained" by Scajola's arrest, but noted his longtime ally was not a Forza Italia candidate in the European elections later this month.
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 the minister charged with executing the government's program.
Scajola is the second close Berlusconi aide under judicial scrutiny. Marcello Dell'Utri, a former senator in Berlusconi's party, has been declared a fugitive in Italy and detained in Lebanon, where he fled as a decision neared on his final appeal of a conviction of Mafia association.