Berlusconi aide denies corruption claim

By Gavin Jones

Rome - A top aide of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi involved in a corruption investigation over public contracts on Thursday denied any wrongdoing, while Berlusconi fiercely attacked the prosecutors leading the probe.

"The accusation is terrible, defamatory, I think it has been a big misunderstanding" Guido Bertolaso, well known in Italy as as head of the civil protection department, said in an interview on public television.

"The fear is that Italians could feel betrayed by Guido Bertolaso, this is why I am ready to give my life to demonstrate to them that I have never betrayed them," he said.

Berlusconi has repeatedly praised Bertolaso for his department's response to natural disasters, including the earthquake that hit the central city of L'Aquila last April.

On Wednesday the prime minister rejected his offer to resign after he was put under investigation as part of a probe into contracts to build the original site intended for last year's G8 summit, later switched to a location near L'Aquila.

Bertolaso, seen as a hero by many in Italy for his handling of the earthquake and other natural disasters, made no immediate comment after the probe came to light, but on Thursday he responded to a public call from Berlusconi to defend himself. - Reuters


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