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Berlusconi’s wave of gossip leaves bad news in its wake

June 1, 2009

The drip-drip of spicy revelations involving Silvio Berlusconi and beautiful young women has enlivened an otherwise routine election campaign, with the Italian prime minister’s centre-right coalition doing its own bit to stoke the fires of scandal.

Entering the final week of campaigning for the European elections, newspapers close to the media mogul premier chose to focus yesterday on the latest gossip and mud-slinging of their own.

Conveniently sidelined is bad news about the economy in a second year of recession and Fiat’s failed bid for Opel, the German carmaker, amid accusations the government has neglected national interests because of the billionaire premier’s “distractions”.

Last week, as Fiat fought to press its offer for the European arm of GM, the government was obtaining a court ban and confiscation of hundreds of photographs.

According to media reports citing Antonello Zappadu, the photographer, they allegedly show young women – some topless – and other guests in various states of undress at a New Year’s party and separate reception for Mirek Topolanek, the then Czech prime minister, at Mr Berlusconi’s Villa Certosa in Sardinia.

Some pictures are said to be of guests arriving in nearby Olbia in military aircraft, raising more questions from the opposition about how Mr Berlusconi mixes his private and official lives.

Mr Zappadu is being investigated by police for violation of privacy in trying to sell the pictures.

One of the guests was Noemi Letizia, a model who calls Mr Berlusconi, 72, “Daddy” and received an expensive necklace from him for her 18th birthday in Naples in April. That led Veronica Lario, 52, Mr Berlusconi’s actress wife, to declare four weeks ago she would sue for divorce, accusing her husband of “frequenting minors” and needing help.

With his explanations of how he knew Ms Letizia and her family put in doubt by the versions of those closely involved, Mr Berlusconi said last week he would resign if he were shown to be lying by denying having had “spicy” relations with her.

Libero, a newspaper close to Mr Berlusconi which ran the front-page headline “Ungrateful Starlet” above a picture of a topless Ms Lario on the day she made her accusations of betrayal, ran an “exclusive interview” yesterday with the leader of a rightwing fringe party, who accused the actress of having a long-standing affair with her security chief.

The whiff of scandal, driven by newspapers on the left, has also pushed aside the accusations of corruption made by Milan judges against Mr Berlusconi. The prime minister, who got parliament to give him immunity from prosecution after his election victory last year, has branded the judges leftwing extremists.

On the campaign trail at the weekend, Mr Berlusconi accused left-leaning newspapers of serving as the “bed-mat” of the opposition Democratic party, predicting his People of Liberty party would emerge the largest force in the European parliament’s largest bloc, the European People’s party.

Pollsters say the damage done to Mr Berlusconi appears limited, although there has been a rise in the number of undecided voters, indicating a lower turnout than the 73 per cent in the 2004 European elections.

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