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Berlusconi, the most discreet head of State

Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's gaffe-prone PM could face a raft of new prosecutions when the country's highest court rules today whether a law which shields him from criminal prosecution should be repealed.

delhi Updated: Oct 06, 2009 15:01 IST
Swapnapriiya Manna

Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's gaffe-prone Prime Minister could face a raft of new prosecutions when the country's highest court rules on Tuesday whether a law which shields him from criminal prosecution should be repealed. If the court rules that that the law is unconstitutional, several cases involving the scandal-prone media tycoon will become active again.

The most high profile case which would be revived centres around allegations that Berlusconi paid a £430,000 bribe to his British former tax lawyer, David Mills, for lying on his behalf during two trials in the 1990s. He also has been embroiled in sex scandals since April when photographs of naked women mingling at his villa emerged on a Spanish website.

Not only is the 72 year old the longest-serving Prime Minister of the Italian Republic but also has the longest list of allegations of damaging the image and dignity of the country. In November last year he added racial offence to his never ending list of various offences by calling Barack Obama handsome, young and "suntanned".

In July this year Silvio Berlusconi landed himself in hot water with almost all of the G8 member nations, managing to personally offend the leaders of each country. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, will not have forgotten that at a recent Nato event, Berlusconi kept her waiting by talking on his mobile phone with his back turned to her.

And very few have emerged unscathed from his peculiar brand of music hall humour, adolescent japes and sexist quips. In February he was reported to have joked to Nicolas Sarkozy that he "gave" the French president his Italian-born wife, Carla Bruni.

Berlusconi's previous gaffes included remarking to businessmen on a trip to the US that Italy was a great country to invest in "because we have fewer Communists nowadays and beautiful secretaries, superb girls".

His media relations have been uncanny ever since. One of Berlusconi's strongest critics in the media outside Italy is the British weekly The Economist (nicknamed by Berlusconi "The Ecommunist"), which in its issue of the 26 April 2001 carried a title on its front cover, 'Why Silvio Berlusconi is unfit to lead Italy?'

Berlusconi's extensive control over the media and press freedom organisations in Italy led to The Freedom of the Press 2004 Global Survey, an annual study issued by the American organization Freedom House, downgrade Italy's ranking from 'Free' to 'Partly Free'.

So who is next? Mr Berlusconi never misses an opportunity to make an off-colour quip. A few months ago, on the inaugural run of a new high-speed rail link, he donned a ticket collector's cap and asked the mayor of Florence: "How do you like the railway man prime minister?"

He then grinned and answered his own question. "I myself prefer the whoremonger PM".

As allegations over Mr Berlusconi's personal life never end Italians will hope that their prime minister can avoid repeat performances of the not so needed colourful comments.