World News

Italy bribery scandal widens, casts pall on government

ROME (Reuters) - A widening bribery scandal which has already forced the industry minister to resign is threatening to engulf Italy’s ruling class, with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi under growing pressure to stop the rot.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi rubs his eye as he waits for the arrival of Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber for a meeting at Villa Madama in Rome May 4, 2010. REUTERS/Max Rossi

Prosecutors suspect that building entrepreneur Diego Anemone, who is under investigation for corruption, bestowed favors -- if not outright bribes -- upon scores of people to win public works and other lucrative contracts.

Italian media published on Thursday and Friday a list of around 400 high-profile individuals suspected of having benefited from construction work done by Anenome.

The list includes politicians, police and secret service officials, civil servants and executives at state television RAI, many of them close to Berlusconi’s center right.

The media said it was seized by investigators from Anemone, who was arrested in February in a wide-ranging probe into huge public work contracts such as building the original site of last year’s G8 summit.

Anemone, who was released from jail last week but remains under investigation, denies any wrongdoing.

The number of people allegedly implicated in the investigation has drawn comparisons with the Bribesville scandal which wiped out an entire generation of politicians in the 1990s.

“Silvio, react or it will end in tears,” was the banner headline in pro-Berlusconi newspaper Libero on Friday, warning the prime minister about mounting public outrage and urging him to take action to contain the damage.

In the past, Berlusconi and his allies have accused magistrates of waging a political campaign against his government.

But this time, they seem worried about the fallout from the scandal, which paints an alarming picture of widespread impunity at a time when Italians are struggling to recover from the country’s worst post-war recession.

“I’ll sack those who are at fault,” Berlusconi was quoted by newspapers as telling aides late on Thursday.

“The prime minister should show he has the determination and the courage to carry out a clean-up operation in his party’s ranks,” said Flavio Tosi of the Northern League, an increasingly influential partner in the ruling coalition.

Last week, Industry Minister Claudio Scajola -- a close associate of Berlusconi -- was forced to resign after it emerged that Anemone had largely paid for his Rome apartment overlooking the Colosseum. Scajola says he knew nothing about it.

The head of the civil protection department, Guido Bertolaso and one of the three national coordinators for Berlusconi’s party, Denis Verdini, are under investigation for corruption in the same probe. Both deny any wrongdoing.

Reporting by Silvia Aloisi; editing by Philippa Fletcher