Berlusconi MP accused of mafia ties dodges arrest

Berlusconi MP accused of mafia ties dodges arrest

ROME - Agence France-Presse
Berlusconi MP accused of mafia ties dodges arrest

Italy's former premier Silvio Berlusconi talks on a cellphone as he leaves his house during a break of the Berlusconi Mills trial, in Milan, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011. AP photo

Italian lawmakers Thursday rejected a motion to lift parliamentary immunity for a deputy from Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom party accused of strong ties with the Naples Camorra crime syndicate.

Prosecutors had requested the arrest of Nicola Cosentino, a former junior finance minister under Berlusconi, saying that he had played an "essential" role in helping a mafia-linked shopping mall project obtain bank financing.

Thursday's motion saw 309 votes against his arrest and 298 in favour. Allies from Cosentino's party hugged and shook hands with him after the vote.

"This was the right decision, in line with the constitution," said Berlusconi, who is himself a defendant in three trials for bribery, tax fraud, sex with an underage prostitute and abuse of power.

"The trial will go ahead as normal with no obstacles and the member of parliament will face it as a free man as is right," he said.

Cosentino, who has fought off similar allegations in the past, was portrayed by prosecutors as a link between the Casalesi clan and political power in Rome.

Police last month arrested 47 people on charges including extortion, election fraud and money laundering in a raid against the Casalesi.

The Casalesi clan is one of the bloodiest and most powerful of the Camorra and was at the centre of the book "Gomorrah" by investigative journalist Roberto Saviano, which has been turned into an award-winning film.

The group has major interests in the cement and construction business.

Italian police in November 2010 arrested Antonio "The Baby" Iovine, a leader of the Casalesi, after 14 years on the run. Iovine, who had escaped arrest many times before, was picked up as he tried to jump from a balcony.

Prosecutors earlier said their inquiry showed "the far-reaching control of the Casalesi clan in political, institutional, economic and extortion activities in Casal di Principe," a town north of Naples.