ROME Oct 2 A senior Italian regional politician
was arrested on Tuesday in a widening corruption scandal that
could damage former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's already
weakened centre-right party ahead of a national election in
Financial police arrested Franco Fiorito, former leader of
Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party in the regional
parliament of Lazio, on suspicion of embezzlement, a justice
system official said. His lawyers confirmed the arrest.
The arrest is the latest development in a scandal that has
further tarnished the already abysmal image of Italian politics
and weakened the PDL, which has been deeply divided since
Berlusconi was forced to step down last year.
Dozens of other regional politicians are also alleged to be
involved in the scandal which prompted the resignation last week
of Lazio president Renata Polverini, whose departure is expected
to trigger new regional elections within the next few months.
Italian newspapers have carried accounts of lavish parties
and dinners apparently paid for with public funds and held by
politicians in Lazio, the region surrounding the capital Rome.
One particularly damaging series of photographs shows
revellers clad in togas and pig masks, underscoring the decadent
image of the political class in a country facing deep recession
and financial crisis.
The portly, bearded Fiorito had already been under
investigation by magistrates over accusations that he embezzled
around 1.3 million euros of party funds and used the money for a
Sardinian holiday, expensive restaurants, cars and luxury goods.
In Italy, political parties receive state financing, meaning
the money alleged to have been embezzled ultimately came from
However Fiorito's lawyer Carlo Taormina said his client
should not have been arrested for embezzlement and that many
other politicians were also involved in the affair.
"There's a legal argument which says that when this public
money goes into the pockets of the party, whether you like it or
not, it becomes private money," he told TGCom24 television. "And
you also have to say that if they've arrested Fiorito, the other
70 regional councillors in Lazio are missing from the list."
Earlier this month, Fiorito told investigators that many
other regional councillors were involved in a well-established
system of sharing out party funds among themselves.
Berlusconi and PDL party secretary Angelino Alfano have
attempted to distance themselves from the scandal, calling for
an overhaul of party financing rules and tougher penalties on
those guilty of abusing party funds.
But with recent opinion polls showing the PDL trailing both
the centre-left Democratic Party and the anti-establishment 5
Star Movement, the scandal has added a further obstacle six
months away from the election.