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Berlusconi Investigated for Corruption Tied to Italy Senator

Feb. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is under investigation in Naples on suspicion of corruption tied to Senator Sergio De Gregorio, who switched parties to join the billionaire’s supporters in parliament.

Police seized a safe used by Berlusconi and consulted telephone records to probe “suspicion of criminal corruption and illicit party financing,” the office of the Naples prosecutor said today in an e-mailed statement. Berlusconi was asked to submit to questioning, the prosecutor said.

Berlusconi, 76, is fighting criminal accusations from Milan to Naples as he lines up his newly elected parliamentary troops to increase his influence in Italy’s next government. A three-time premier, Berlusconi won a blocking minority in Italy’s four-way general election this week and is pushing his rivals to cooperate on a common agenda.

Piero Longo, an Italian senator and one of Berlusconi’s lawyers, denied the former premier broke the law.

“It is a groundless accusation,” Longo said in a telephone interview. “No corruption took place.”

De Gregorio entered parliament in 2006 as a member of Antonio Di Pietro’s Italian Values party and initially backed then-Prime Minister Romano Prodi. De Gregorio broke with Di Pietro in September 2006 and Prodi’s government fell in January 2008.

Investigators are looking into an alleged payment of 3 million euros ($3.9 million) received by De Gregorio and tied to his change of support, Ansa news agency reported today without citing anyone. De Gregorio was re-elected in 2008 as a member of Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party.

Nazzareno Di Stefano, a secretary of De Gregorio, was unreachable by telephone and didn’t respond to a text message seeking comment. A spokesman for the People of Liberty party in the Senate had no comment. The Naples prosecutor’s office had no immediate comment.

Berlusconi is appealing a tax fraud conviction in Milan and standing trial on charges he paid a minor for sex. He has denied all the charges.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Frye in Rome at afrye@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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