Prince Victor Emmanuel, who lived in a former papal palace as a boy and spent his life among Switzerland’s jet set, woke up in a jail cell on Saturday, arrested as part of a probe into prostitution and corruption.
The 69-year-old son of Italy’s last king was one of 13 people detained in northern Italy on Friday in the investigation. He was taken to a jail in southern Potenza, where the probe is based.
The prince is one of Italy’s best known figures and the arrest came as a shock even for a country hardened by scandals. Some newspapers dedicated five pages or more to the story.
“Women and Money - Victor Emmanuel ends up in handcuffs,” was the headline in Milan’s Il Giornale newspaper.
The operation that led to his arrest focuses on the activities of a casino in northern Italy. It involved charges of corruption, trafficking in licenses for video poker used in casinos, giving false testimony and abetting prostitution.
According to Italian media reports, investigators believe he had contacts with Mafia clans and was involved in procuring prostitutes for clients of the casino in Campione d’Italia, an Italian enclave on Lake Lugano near the Swiss border.
Magistrate Iannuzzi Alberto told reporters in southern Italy on Saturday he had decided to sign an arrest warrant for the prince and the other 12 men due to “extremely alarming evidence”.
Among those detained was a top aide to the foreign minister in former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government which lost power in a national election in April.
Victor Emmanuel was 9 years old in 1946 when Italy’s last royal family, the Savoys, left Rome’s Quirinale palace, once a papal summer residence and today the seat of Italy’s presidency.
Until a change in a law allowed him to return, he spent much of his time jetting around Europe, often with members of other royal families without thrones.
Victor Emmanuel was involved in a high-profile shooting incident on a sailboat off Corsica in 1989 in which a 19-year-old German died. After several trials, a Paris court cleared him of manslaughter charges in 1991.
He again made headlines in 1997 when he gave an interview in which he refused to ask forgiveness for racial laws against Jews that had been signed by his grandfather in 1938.
King Umberto II and the rest of the royal family went into exile in 1946 when Italians rejected the monarchy in favor of a republic in a referendum. Umberto died in Portugal in 1983.
The referendum punished the family for first collaborating with fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and then ignominiously fleeing Rome in 1944 to avoid an invading German army.
Victor Emmanuel was based in Switzerland with his family until 2002, returning soon after Italy lifted a ban on male heirs of the discredited throne from entering the country.
One of the first things he did was to attend a private audience with the late Pope John Paul at the Vatican.
Hours before he was arrested, the prince had donated a new silver bell to a small church in northern Italy.