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Mayor of Venice under house arrest on charges of corruption

More than 30 people, including the Mayor of Venice, have been arrested in a corruption probe over the Italian city's flood protection project. It is the latest arrest in investigations throughout Italy.

The arrests on Wednesday were part of a three-year investigation which led to last summer's arrest of Giovanni Mazzacurati. Mazzacurati was the head of the consortium building the long-delayed Moses barrier system to prevent flooding of Venice's architectural treasures, including St. Mark's Square, during high tides.

Authorities say 25 million euros ($34 million) was diverted abroad to bribe politicians.

"The investigation shows that a great portion of the funds was used to finance political forces at the city, regional and national level, and corrupt high-level public officials," prosecutors Luigi Delpino and Carlo Nordio said.

Mayor of Venice, 67-year-old Giorgio Orsoni, has been placed under house arrest accused of illegally financing political parties, prosecutors said.

The prosecutors said they had also requested the arrest of former Venice region governor Giancarlo Galan, an MP in former premier Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party. Galan is currently protected by parliamentary immunity. He launched the Moses project - or The Experimental Electromechanical Module (MOSE) - in 2003 with Berlusconi.

Also detained on Wednesday were the regional head of Italy's ruling Democratic Party, Giampiero Marquis, regional councillor for infrastructure Renato Chisso and the president of a co-operative involved in the Moses project. A hundred others are believed to be under investigation.

Costs for the ambitious Moses scheme have reportedly reached 5.4 billion euros ($7.4 billion). The system of 78 mobile barriers to protect the city was due for completion this year but has been repeatedly delayed.

Separate investigations in Italy

have centered on some of the country's biggest public works projects including Milan's world fair, Expo 2015, and an Italian-funded water project in Iraq.

Last weekend, the European Commission cited corruption as an issue hampering investment and economic renewal in Italy. The south European nation ranked 69th in Transparency International's perceived level of public sector corruption in 2013; behind Montenegro and just ahead of Kuwait.

jm/crh (AP, dpa)

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