The Italian government’s tenuous grip on power has been further weakened, with the party of a key ally quitting the ruling coalition.
Justice Minister Clemente Mastella left the government after being embroiled in a corruption investigation involving his wife.
Prime Minister Romano Prodi said Mastella had faced numerous questions during his career, yet he still believed in him and, as a politician and friend, he offered him his total support.
Mastella said he was quitting because of corruption allegations against his wife. She, Sandra, is the head of the regional council in Naples.
It later emerged Mastella was also caught up in the jobs-and-influence scandal in the same region.
Mastella said he’d told the Prime Minister he had to defend his honour and dignity, and his party would have to leave the coalition.
Mastella’s wife has been placed under house arrest, although he himself has not. In his resignation speech Mastella said he, as Justice Minister, was being victimised for his judicial reforms.
Mastella was a controversial appointment as Italy’s senior legal politician, not least because, in 2000, he was best man at the wedding of a known Mafia figure.