Berlusconi’s 'innocent' pictures published in Spain

The Italian leader and media mogul is enraged by the photos. His lawyer is threatening a suit against El País, the newspaper that carried them.

By , Correspondent

MADRIDItaly’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi discovered his control over media stretches only within his borders.

Spain’s main daily newspaper, El País, recently published five photos from the prime minister's Mediterranean villa that Italian prosecutors had banned from publications.

Mr. Berlusconi appears in two pictures walking in the company of several young women. Others, showing scantily clad women sunbathing, could be modestly described as R-rated. All faces, except for Berlusconi’s were pixeled out.

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It's the latest scandal threatening to engulf Berlusconi. His wife wants to divorce him for his romantic encounters earlier this year with woman a quarter of his age (he's 72). And the photos also appeared just days after an investigation opened into whether he improperly used his official plane to fly guests to his villa.

Berlusconi is enraged by the front-page publication of the photos, calling it an “aggression” of his private life. His lawyer promised to file a lawsuit against the Spanish paper for printing the pictures.

“I’m not afraid,” Berlusconi said, referring to the pictures. “They are innocent photos; there is no scandal, but it is an unacceptable violation of privacy and a scandalous aggression.”

In response to the nudity, Il Cavalieri, as Berlusconi is nicknamed, asked: “When have you ever seen anyone take a shower in a suit and tie?”The pictures were taken over the past two years by paparazzo Antonello Zapaddu. He claims that Berlusconi held almost weekly parties at the villa and that the guests – ranging from people who appeared to be teenaged to identifiable government VIPs – sometimes arrived in government planes.

One of the guests was former Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, who admitted he was one of the people in the pictures. He accused El País of taking part in a left-wing conspiracy on the eve of European Union elections.

Prosecutors confiscated more than 300 photos Zapaddu tried selling in Italy, where Berlusconi controls most of the country’s media. But prosecutors also opened an investigation into the use of the government’s plane for personal use.

El País seemed unfazed, saying it violated no law. Not unlike News of the World's surge in views following the publishing of photos of Michael Phelps smoking marijuana, the photos of guests at Berlusconi's villa have yielded heavy traffic at the newspaper's website. In fact, El País broke Spain’s record for online viewing and its global exclusive has been reprinted throughout the world.

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