giovedì 8 ottobre 2009

Italy’s love affair with the showman Silvio Berlusconi turns sour

From The Times
October 8, 2009
Italy’s love affair with the showman Silvio Berlusconi turns sour
Richard Owen
In April last year Silvio Berlusconi was swept to power for a third term as Prime Minister, capitalising on public disenchantment with the fractious and inept government of his great rival Romano Prodi.

He triumphantly formed a new party, the People of Liberty, a merger of his Forza Italia and the Alleanza Nazionale, a former neo-fascist group led by Gianfranco Fini. Greatness beckoned for the brash, wise-cracking “outsider”, a property developer and television mogul who transformed Italy — its politics, society and culture — when he formed Forza Italia in 1994. Once his third term was out of the way, he had his sights on the Italian presidency, with a vision of the Right in office “for decades to come”.

A year and a half later it has all gone wrong. He will still not resign, his spokesman says, and will complete his five-year term. Outwardly Mr Berlusconi, who turned 73 last month, remains a crowd-pleaser, a showman who maintains that Italians “love me the way I am” or even that “all Italians want to be like me”. He is, he boasts, “the best Prime Minister united Italy has had in its 150-year history”.

Many Italians still forgive him his perma-tan, hair transplants and platform shoes, even his notorious gaffes, ranging from telling victims of the earthquake in Abruzzo in April to imagine they were “on a camping holiday” to describing President Obama — twice — as “tanned”.

But the Constitutional Court’s ruling may mark the beginning of the end. It is the second time that he has tried to give himself immunity — the last was in 2004 — and the second time he has been rebuffed. His lawyers’ argument this week that he was “first above equals” served only to show that the law was made to protect him.

The decision yesterday opens the way for prosecutors to revive allegations against Mr Berlusconi, from tax evasion and alleged past links to the Mafia to corruption, in particular the David Mills case.

Mr Berlusconi’s lawyers also argued that he could not defend himself while running the country. Apart from the fact that he found time for a busy sex life, the real risk is that renewed corruption allegations will dominate the headlines in the coming months. Corruption charges may weigh more heavily with Italians than his sexual behaviour. This could hurt the Right in regional elections next March.

When his wife, Veronica Lario, demanded a divorce in May — she said that she could not stay with a man who “frequents minors” after he attended the 18th birthday of Noemi Letizia, an aspiring model — trouble began to follow him around. There was a tidal wave of revelations about his private life, leading to talk of “sex addiction”. Who were all these women who partied at his residences — flown in on state aircraft? Was there a security risk? Was the Prime Minister vulnerable to blackmail?

Prosecutors in Bari are expected to press charges against Gianpaolo Tarantini, a businessman accused of paying women to attend Mr Berlusconi’s parties and of dealing in cocaine. Transcripts emerged of recordings of conversations between the Prime Minister and Patrizia D’Addario, a former “escort girl”; she claims that she has given prosecutors proof that the Prime Minister spent the night of the US election with her at Palazzio Grazioli, his residence in Rome. Photographs were released of scores of scantily clad women at Mr Berlusconi’s Sardinian villa — and of a naked and aroused former Czech Prime Minister by the pool.

The counter-offensive came in August through Il Giornale, his family newspaper, “unmasking” his critics as hypocrites. It backfired, making him look a bully and an opponent of free speech. As a result he is given to moments of black fury which can be glimpsed behind the public bonhomie.

Many Italians have stuck with him as the scandals unfolded this spring and summer — although they have disconcerted Catholic voters in particular and led to cool relations between Mr Berlusconi and the Vatican. His popularity ratings have fallen over the year, from 63 per cent to 47 per cent — but that is high for a European leader at a time of recession.

He will hope that Italians will back him in his belief that he is the victim of a conspiracy and that the “communist” judiciary is biased. He has branded the judiciary a “cancerous growth” and called judges “mentally disturbed, anthropologically different from the rest of humanity”.

Those on the Right increasingly concerned by his political domination are looking to Mr Fini to step in and restore a more “normal” conservatism based on sound economics, family values and a foreign policy based on more than personal links to Vladimir Putin, the Russian Prime Minister, or Colonel Gaddafi of Libya. Mr Fini denies any such ambition, but his hour may be approaching.

Fraud, bribery and tax evasion

? The biggest trial suspended after the immunity law was passed concerned charges that Silvio Berlusconi paid the British lawyer David Mills $600,000 (£530,000) from alleged secret funds held by his family-owned company Mediaset to withhold incriminating business information. Mills was sentenced in February to four and a half years for corruption. He is appealing

? A second case involves TV rights acquired by Mediaset which, it is alleged, bought them at an inflated price from companies controlled by Mr Berlusconi. He was accused of tax fraud and false accounting

? A third concerns allegations that senators were offered bribes to join Mr Berlusconi’s coalition in 2007 when he was in opposition

? In another case creating damaging headlines, his company Fininvest was ordered to pay 750 million euros (£690 million) in damages in a takeover dispute. Fininvest must compensate CIR, owned by Mr Berlusconi’s foe Carlo De Benedetti, for bribing a judge in a battle for the publishing company Mondadori. Although a court said Mr Berlusconi was “jointly responsible”, he was cleared in 2001 of criminal charges

Source: Reuters

1 commento:

Andy Fame ha detto...

I Know you. As an Italian could you express your thoughts about this ?

I need your opinion about this. Is 'Berlusconi? a Fascist that only wants to make laws to protect himself?

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