Just weeks before Expo is due to open in Milan, the project has been included in a lengthy list of public works in which a government official allegedly received bribes for contracts.
Ettore Incalza, a former Infrastructure and Transport Ministry employee who held a pivotal role in handing out contracts, was arrested on Monday along with businessman Stefano Perotti.
Two other businessmen, Francesco Cavallo and Sandro Pacella, have been put under house arrest, while a total of 51 people are under investigation in the corruption probe.
As part of the operation police on Monday seized companies across Italy, including offices of the Italian Railway Network (RFI) and a company linked to the road building company Anas.
Incalza is believed to have handed out contracts to business owners tied to Perotti, in exchange for substantial kickbacks. Deals being scrutinized were worth €25 billion over ten years, Ansa said.
In one case, Incalza allegedly received €500,000 from a company working on the high-speed train line between Florence and Bologna. A further €700,000 was given by another firm to his son-in law, Alberto Donati.
The ex-manager of Expo, Antonio Acerbo, is under investigation as well as two former undersecretaries for transport, Rocco Girlanda and Antonio Bargone.
Italy’s current transport minister, Maurizio Lupi, has been accused of having ties to Incalza but is not formally under investigation. In a wiretapped conversation, Incalza was heard saying he was “waiting for the approval of [Interior Minister] Angelino Alfano and Maurizio Lupi.”
Perotti’s cousin allegedly gave the minister’s son, Luca Lupi, a Rolex watch worth €10,350. Corrupt businessmen also discussed giving him a job, an accusation the minister strongly denies.
“I never asked the engineer Perotti nor anyone else to give my son work,” he was quoted by Ansa as saying. Lupi went on to describe Incalza as “one of the most influential technical figures that our country has had.”
The minister promised the government’s full cooperation in the investigation, saying that major public works must go on.
Graziano Delrio, cabinet undersecretary, said it was “premature to draw elements of guilt from the minister and the government.”
In a timely tweet, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on Monday said sentences for corruption would be doubled.
Contro corruzione proposte governo: pene aumentate e prescrizione raddoppiata. E l'Autorità oggi è Legge con pres Cantone. @AndreaOrlandosp
— Matteo Renzi (@matteorenzi) March 16, 2015
Renzi earlier this month visited Milan to promote Expo, a year after investigators uncovered widespread corruption over contracts at the world fair.