Italian police have arrested a former member of Silvio Berlusconi's government, accusing him of colluding with the mafia to eliminate competition against his family's petrol distribution business near Naples, officials have said.

Nicola Cosentino, an undersecretary in the Economy Ministry from 2008-2010 and the ex-boss of Berlusconi's party in the
region around Naples, was arrested along with 12 others on suspicion of extortion and unfair competitive practices.

The Italian mob has always sought alliances with business and political leaders, even at the highest levels.

Seven-time Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti was acquitted of mafia charges, but found to have had ties to the Sicilian Mafia's top bosses before 1980. Berlusconi himself has been investigated, though never tried, for ties to organised crime.

In a statement, Naples anti-mafia prosecutors say Cosentino, his two brothers Giovanni and Antonio, and two brothers of mob boss Antonio Zagaria set up a "criminal system" to control the local petrol distribution market.

Cosentino used his political sway in local administrative offices to favour his family business and create bureaucratic
obstacles for the competition, while the mob intimidated and extorted petrol distributors not owned or supplied by Cosentino's company, prosecutors said.

Cosentino had a "stable relationship based on common interests" with members of the local mafia, known as the
Casalesi clan, prosecutors said in a statement released after the arrests.

Two Cosentino lawyers did not immediately respond to calls for comment.

Source: Agencies