Italy's Lombardy regional head investigated for "irrgularities" in Milan Expo contracts

MILAN, Italy, July 14 (Xinhua) -- Roberto Maroni, the president of Lombardy region of which Milan is the capital, has been put under investigation on bribery charges in connection with next year's world exposition in the business city, local reports said on Monday.

Maroni along with his staff chief Giacomo Ciriello were suspected of irregularities involving two labor contracts related to the Expo Milano 2015 that will run in Milan from May 1 to Oct. 31, according to Milan-based Corriere della Sera newspaper.

Police early on Monday searched Maroni's offices for evidence of graft.

"Maroni has made himself immediately available to prosecutors to clarify the regularity and propriety of the matter," a statement from his press office said.

According to sources of Corriere della Sera, the president "put pressure" on a regional research center and on the world exposition's managing company to grant short-term labor contracts "unduly" to two people close to him for projects related to the expo.

"I am absolutely serene and at the same time very surprised, because to my knowledge everything was absolutely smooth, transparent and legitimate," Maroni said in a statement released later on the same day.

Maroni, 59, a former interior minister and labor minister in the center-right governments of three-time premier Silvio Berlusconi, was so far the highest profile politician involved in an expo-related probe.

Prosecutors in May uncovered a network around the upcoming six-month event to influence public contracts by promising career advancements to officials thanks to political protection.

Several people including public officials, politicians and entrepreneurs were detained in the probe for suspected crimes including criminal association, fraud against a public entity and bid-rigging.