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Berlusconi allies deny “scandal” will be downfall

June 23, 2009

Published on FT on June 23 2009

By Guy Dinmore in Rome

As Italian newspapers yesterday published photographs taken by call girls in the bathroom of Silvio Berlusconi’s Rome residence and investigators expressed concerns over lapses of security, it was business as normal for the centre-right government with the prime minister’s supporters denying the latest “scandal” would lead to his
downfall.

“I don’t see any changes in the (parliamentary) majority that could provoke a fall of the government,” declared Claudio Scajola, minister for economic development. “And there are no other democratic mechanisms to bring about a change of the executive,” he told the daily Corriere della Sera.

So far two women, one a self-described hostess and the other a former escort, have gone public with allegations that they were paid by a businessman in Bari to attend parties at Mr Berlusconi’s Villa Grazioli
and his residence in Sardinia.

Over the weekend, Barbara Montereale, 23, told newspapers that Mr Berlusconi gave her 10,000  euros and jewelry “as a present” and she also received a 1,000 euro appearance fee from the businessman,
Giampaolo Tarantini. Ms Montereale also alleged that Patrizia D’Addario, 42, had told her she had sex with the 72-year-old prime minister on the night of the US elections last November.

Mr Berlusconi says this is trash and lies. He is not the subject of a
judicial investigation in Bari which is focused on allegations of
corruption involving public health contracts awarded to Mr Tarantini.
Newspapers quoted him as saying he only paid their “expenses”.

Following reports that some 30 young women, many from eastern Europe,
attended one of the parties in Sardinia and that call girls entered his
Rome residence with no checks, investigators in Bari have expressed
alarm at possible lapses of security, a theme echoed by Mr Scajola
yesterday.

While urging the prime minister to exercise more “caution”, Mr Scajola
portrayed the billionaire tycoon as a man who was “exuberant, jovial,
happy and most generous who loves to open up his home and play host to
absolutely everyone, having great respect for people.”

Mr Scajola and other loyal ministers accuse the centre-left opposition
and their supporters in the media of creating scandals because they lack
any political arguments. Mr Berlusconi himself set off speculation over
his future a week ago by speaking vaguely of a “coup” being plotted
against him.

The latest revelations followed weeks of salacious reporting about the
nature of Mr Berlusconi’s friendship with an 18-year-old would-be model.
His wife, Veronica Lario,  has accused him of  consorting with minors
and wants a divorce.

While clearly infuriating for Mr Berlusconi just two weeks before he
hosts world leaders at the annual G8 summit, there are few signs of
serious political fallout so far.

As the left-leaning daily Repubblica at the centre of the government’s
counter-attack pointed out, Mr Berlusconi’s control and influence over
television means that the large majority of  Italians know little in
detail of the allegations.

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