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Crisis forces Berlusconi to cancel summer holiday

July 16, 2010

by Guy Dinmore in Rome, July 16 2010

Fresh from giving a soothing voiceover in a government commercial urging Italians to spend their summer holidays in “magic Italy”, Silvio Berlusconi’s mid-term crisis yesterday forced him to cancel his own vacation plans.

According to official sources, the beleaguered prime minister told cabinet colleagues that instead he would spend much of August reorganising his People of Liberty party.

Mr Berlusconi’s bid to regain the initiative follows the resignation in quick succession of two ministers and a senior Treasury official caught up in corruption cases that have rocked the government, giving rise to speculation that Italy is heading for early elections.

The latest scandal to hit the headlines – dubbed P3 by the media after
the subversive P2 masonic lodge that was exposed in the early 1980s –
has involved some of the prime minister’s close associates and come
uncomfortably close to his own doorstep.

Niccolo Ghedini, Mr Berlusconi’s lawyer, yesterday denied that the
mysterious “Caesar” mentioned in conversations of suspects tapped by
police was a codename for the prime minister. “Ridiculous,” he said.

Mr Berlusconi had nothing to do, directly or indirectly, with the
suspected secret society under investigation, Mr Ghedini said.

“Four loser-pensioners” is how Mr Berlusconi earlier described the
alleged cabal of businessmen and politicians suspected of trying to
influence key judges, including members of the Constitutional Court
ahead of a crucial ruling last October on the legitimacy of a law giving
the prime minister immunity from prosecution.

Those investigated include Nicola Cosentino, a powerful politician from
Naples who resigned on Tuesday as Treasury under-secretary; Denis
Verdini, a banker and one of three managers of the People of Liberty;
and Marcello Dell’Utri, a senator and former executive in Mr
Berlusconi’s media empire who last month lost his appeal against an
earlier conviction for mafia association. All denied wrong-doing and are
not under arrest.

Among three people arrested last week linked to the probe was Flavio
Carboni, a Sardinian businessman who in May was cleared by a court for
the second time of involvement in the murder of Roberto Calvi, a
Vatican banker found hanging from London’s Blackfriars bridge in 1982.
Mr Carboni also denies wrong-doing.

“The ghost-ship of the Berlusconi government is throwing corpses into
the sea to survive,” commented Ezio Mauro, editor of the left-leaning
Repubblica, depicting an authoritarian prime minister losing his powers.

But responding to suggestions of early elections, Angelino Alfano,
justice minister and a Berlusconi loyalist, yesterday insisted the
government “is not at risk”.

“In our country people sometimes confuse democracy with a videogame,”
the minister said. “But it is not a game you play with a remote
control.”

The billionaire Mr Berlusconi has won three elections since 1994 and
overcome numerous court cases against him. Reminding rivals of his
powers of survival, Umberto Bossi, a coalition ally, noted the prime
minister still had a “sharp sword” to wield.

Italians are expecting a torrid summer.

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