Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi arrives for a meeting of the European People's Party (EPP) ahead of a two-day European Union leaders summit in Brussels
The arrest of a fugitive Italian businessman with close ties to Silvio Berlusconi could cause new judicial problems for the scandal-plagued former prime minister, who is already on trial for corruption and paying for sex with a minor.
Valter Lavitola, publisher of a small newspaper and once a European Parliament candidate for Berlusconi's party, was arrested at Rome airport on Monday after eight months as a fugitive from justice in South America, reports Reuters.
Prosecutors in the southern cities of Naples and Bari are investigating Lavitola and more than 20 other people on allegations including bribery.
Berlusconi, who was forced to resign in November, is not under investigation. But the case has turned the spotlight back on the former premier and media mogul.
Lavitola, 45, was an unofficial aide and fixer for Berlusconi and occasionally accompanied him on state trips abroad although he had no government role.
Naples prosecutors, who are due to interrogate Lavitola on Wednesday, ordered his arrest on charges of fraud connected to 23 million euros in public financing for L'Avanti, a socialist newspaper.
In another charge, magistrates also suspect Lavitola, who was looking after one of his business interests in Brazil when the arrest warrant was issued last year, acted as a middleman for the delivery of bribes by an Italian company to governments in Latin America.
Magistrates say he accompanied Berlusconi on official trips to Albania and Panama.
According to an arrest warrant by Naples prosecutors seen by Reuters, Lavitola was "a state representative incognito" whom Berlusconi trusted.
Before the arrest warrant was issued for Lavitola last year, Berlusconi and he spoke by phone and the conversation was intercepted by the Naples prosecutors.
During the conversation, which was leaked to the media, Berlusconi was purportedly heard urging Lavitola to stay outside Italy. Lavitola told the premier he was in Bulgaria.
In a separate case, prosecutors in Bari have linked Lavitola to a southern businessman, Gianpaolo Tarantini, who prosecutors allege provided high-class prostitutes for sex parties at Berlusconi's homes.
Lavitola denies wrongdoing, said his lawyer, Gaetano Balice.