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Civil protection chief probed

Berlusconi rejects Bertolaso's resignation

10 February, 18:55
Civil protection chief probed
Civil protection chief probed
Civil protection chief probed

(ANSA) - Rome, February 10 - Premier Silvio Berlusconi on Wednesday rejected the resignation of Civil Protection chief Guido Bertolaso, under investigation in a wider probe into contracts to build the original site of last year's Group of Eight summit.

Bertolaso, 59, resigned immediately after police searched the office of his civil protection department in Rome and handed him a formal notice that he was being investigated in a corruption inquiry into 327 million euros worth of contracts to build the G8 facilities on the Sardinian island of La Maddalena.

Judicial sources in Florence, where the probe is being coordinated, said that Bertolaso was being investigated on corruption charges. In a statement released by his department, Bertolaso said he was stepping down so ''as not to create any complications for investigators''. He said he would also ask to speak to investigating prosecutors as soon as possible, "to give them any information I have".

Bertolaso stressed that he had "absolute trust" in the judiciary and said his office had given police "all the documents we had available" while pledging "full support" in their investigation. Berlusconi, who has repeatedly praised Bertolaso for his handling of the Campania garbage emergency and his response to last April's earthquake in L'Aquila, said he was "convinced the civil protection chief would be able to clear everything up".

The premier announced recently he was planning to reward Bertolaso - one of the country's most popular figures - by upgrading his department to ministry level and make him a minister. Cabinet Secretary Gianni Letta said Berlusconi told a cabinet meeting that Bertolaso was "only marginally connected to investigations involving other people".

The premier said the civil protection chief needed to carry on and contribute, for the country's good, with "his extraordinary intelligence, dedication and commitment". Berlusconi's decision was met with a round of applause from the cabinet, Letta said.

Later, the premier said he had spoken to Bertolaso who gave him the impression "he wants to stay on".

Earlier in the day, police arrested the head of the state public works office, Angelo Balducci on corruption charges in connection with the same probe. Also arrested were Rome businessman Diego Anemone, 38; the Tuscany region's public works contractor Fabio De Santis, 61; and state official Mauro Della Giovampaola, 44.

Judicial sources in Florence said later that Rome prosecutor Achille Poro was also being investigated.

Balducci, head of the state's public works office, was tasked with reconverting a US submarine base on the Sardinian island of La Maddalena to host the G8 summit last July before it was moved to the quake-struck city of L'Aquila in central Italy.

Over 300 million euros were earmarked for Maddalena project which involved creating a convention center, hotel accommodations and port facilities, in view of its future use as a venue for major sailing events.

Balducci's office is influential in decisions to award public works' contracts and is connected to the infrastructure ministry.

He has never worked for the civil protection office. The G8 summit was originally slated to be held on La Maddalena but Berlusconi decided to move it to L'Aquila, the capital of Abruzzo, to draw international attention to the region and its need of reconstruction aid.

The earthquake killed 300 people and left 70,000 homeless.

Bertolaso has become one of the country's most popular figures following his department's handling of a series of natural disasters and for overseeing the construction of homes for L'Aquila homeless in a record five months.

Last month, he created a minor diplomatic incident between Rome and Washington when, during a visit to Haiti, he criticized the United States' response to the quake there.

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