MILAN (Reuters) - Italian finance police arrested a high-ranking politician in the Lombardy regional government for corruption on Tuesday just before he was due to attend a conference promoting legality in the public administration.
Mario Mantovani, a member of Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, is suspected of graft, rigging public tenders and corruption perpetrated between 2012 and 2014, according to a statement from the Milan court.
One of Mantovani's aides and a state engineer also face charges of wrongdoing. The court provided no further details.
An ex-senator, Mantovani is the second-highest ranking figure in the government in Lombardy, which includes the city of Milan. He could not be immediately reached for comment.
As a deputy minister at the Transport Ministry from 2008 to 2011, Mantovani became known for paying for local public works projects with checks bearing the smiling face of Berlusconi, the then prime minister.
"We know Mario Mantovani to be an honest man and we are waiting for news," Berlusconi told reporters in Rome. "We were shocked by this investigation, about which we know nothing."
This is the latest of a long series of corruption scandals to have rocked Italy in recent years. Last year, the city of Rome was hit by a mafia corruption probe. Before that, magistrates exposed corruption in the awarding of public contracts for the Milan Expo and the Venice flood barrier.
(Reporting by Ilaria Polleschi; Writing by Steve Scherer; Editing by Crispian Balmer)