As Italy prepares to host G-8 summit, Berlusconi mired in personal scandal
In the midst of an economic crisis, Italy seem more occupied with the prime minister's alleged affair with a teenager than the July summit.
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Two years ago, he ignited controversy with a comment to a member of his Forza Italia party, Mara Carfagna, a showgirl known for winning TV contests and posing topless. He told Ms. Carfagna openly he would marry her, were he not already married. That prompted the first lady to ask for a public apology from Berlusconi, which he gave.
Carfagna is now the Minister for Equal Opportunity in his cabinet.
But the current issue is not dissipating as quickly as revelations continue to surface. Letizia's ex-boyfriend, for example, said Letizia made an unaccompanied eight-day visit to Berlusconi’s resort. He said Berlusconi didn’t meet Letizia as an old family friend, but phoned her after seeing a modeling catalog that one of her friends had left in one of his villas.
All the factors have contributed to a media maelstrom. As writer Marco Castelnuovo in La Stampa puts it, “The prime minister is in the storm, and it seems he doesn’t know how to come out of it, with so many statements and answers unconfirmed….”
Corriere della Sera columnist Pierluigi Battista suggested Thursday that for Berlusconi “to speak clearly and convincingly” on the Letizia affair “would not be a humiliating pander to the wave of national gossip … but the only way to dissipate the current atmosphere that infects Italian politics.”
A political attack?
La Repubblica has led the charge over the affair, partly because Berlusconi's wife went to the newspaper with details, as she did in the Carfagna blowup. The prime minister has attacked the paper for violating his privacy, telling CNN several days ago that “I think using a private affair for a political attack is disgraceful.”
La Repubblica has editorialized that the issue is not about privacy but inconsistent explanations. “Indeed, it was Mr. Berlusconi himself who has mixed his public and private life to such an extent that any boundaries disappeared. His biography has been his electoral program and was mailed to 50 million Italians on the eve of his political debut; today, 15 years later, he continues to promote in this manner, offering a photostory of his childhood in his family-owned magazine, portraying him on the first day of his Holy Communion….”
Political columnist Claudio Tito, in Corriere della Sera, which has been cautious in its reports, says that as the story builds, the “anxiety at the Palazzo Chigi [the official residence]” is over the G-8, “the idea that a summit between the world powers might be troubled” by the prime minister's personal scandal.
But it wouldn't be the first time – in 1994 Berlusconi was notified during a UN summit on crime that he was under a judicial inquiry in what became the “Clean Hands” trials that led to his resignation.