Dangerous liaisons


Silvio Berlusconi is bullish in public despite the latest scandal swirling around him allegedly spending a night with an escort, but with misgivings being voiced by the church, it promises to be a turbulent summer

ITEM 1: “I was wearing a beautiful Versace dress that a friend of mine who works for a Bari designer gave me as a present. The two of them were sitting on the sofa and he was being affectionate with them but he kept looking at me. Then he decided that I should stay alone with him and the others left with Giampaolo.” (Patrizia D’Addario, Corriere Della Sera, June 21st)

ITEM 2: “Q: After dinner, what happened?

A: “The agreement was that I, Giampaolo and the other girl should leave Patrizia alone with the prime minister and that’s what we did.

Q: Why did Patrizia stay?

A: To work.

Q: To work?

A: Everyone at the dinner knew that she was an “escort”. (Barbara Montereale, La Repubblica, June 20th)

ITEM 3: “Q: Did you all leave Palazzo Grazioli together?

A: No, Patrizia stayed behind

Q: Did you ask why?

A: As I have already told you, I don’t like to ask questions, I am a discreet person.

Q: Is it possible that you did not ask anything, either from Tarantini or from Barbara? After all, you had all arrived together.

A: I didn’t ask any questions. What I might have imagined, however, could be something else. But the things that I imagine, I keep those to myself.” (Lucia Rossini, La Repubblica, June 21st)

THE ABOVE THREE interviews refer to events that took place at Palazzo Grazioli, the private Rome residence of Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, on the night of November 4th last, the night of the US presidential election count. In essence, both Barbara Montereale and Lucia Rossini confirm the claims, first made last week, by Patrizia D’Addario that she spent the night with the 72-year-old prime minister.

D’Addario, a 42-year-old, good-looking blonde, furthermore claims to have taken photographs and recorded the prime minister at Palazzo Grazioli. On one recording, according to La Repubblica, the prime minister can be heard telling her that he is going to take a shower and change into his dressing gown, adding: “You wait for me in the big bed.”

At another moment, voices are heard informing the prime minister that Barack Obama has won the US election and reminding him of various “institutional appointments”. Not all of which the busy prime minister was able to fulfil, given that he failed (in contrast to previous announcements) to show up at the Italia-USA Foundation election night shindig in Rome.

The next day, D’Addario records a phone call to her mobile from the prime minister in which he asks how she is feeling. My voice is a bit hoarse, she answers: “Really? I didn’t hear any screams last night,” he replies.

SUPPORTERS OF BERLUSCONI dismiss the above “Barigate” tales as nothing more than idle, malicious, highly speculative and irrelevant gossip. In an interview this week with weekly gossip magazine Chi(owned by Berlusconi himself, of course) the prime minister claimed that he was the victim of a “set-up” and that D’Addario had acted on “precise instructions” and for “a handsome payment”. He himself would stay “a thousand miles” from a person like that, he added.

There are signs, however, that not everyone is quite convinced. This latest scandal, which emerged via phone taps effected in the course of a Bari-based investigation into healthcare contracts held by brothers Giampaolo and Claudio Tarantini, comes after two months in which the prime minister’s tempestuous private life has dominated news headlines.

Hell hath, indeed, no fury like a woman scorned. The first woman scorned, of course, was his (second) wife, Veronica Lario, who at the beginning of May announced that she was divorcing her famous husband, citing among other things that she no longer wanted to be with a man who “frequents” minors. That was a reference to the fact that Berlusconi had cultivated a “friendship” with 17-year-old Neapolitan Noemi Letizia, who happily refers to him as “papi” or “daddykins”. At the time, Lario suggested that her husband was “not well” and that she had tried to alert his closest advisers to the problem.

The Noemi affair led to accounts from Noemi’s ex-boyfriend, Gino Flaminio, of extravagant parties attended by Noemi at the prime minister’s Sardinian residence, Villa Certosa. Accounts, which soon were documented by photos from the collection of paparazzo Antonello Zappadu, showing topless women and a naked Czech ex-prime minister Mirek Topolánek poolside. Berlusconi managed to have those photos sequestered (because they represented an invasion of privacy) in Italy but they were later published by Spanish daily El Pais.

The second woman scorned, of course, is D’Addario. She says that she is annoyed with the prime minister. She said she received no payment for spending the night with him but did so, happily it seems, in the expectation that he might help her out with a long-term plan to build a hotel on some family land near Bari. That “dig-out” failed to materialise.

In the meantime, D’Addario was groomed to run as a candidate for Berlusconi’s Freedom Party in the European parliamentary elections, eventually being “relegated” to the Puglia Prima Di Tutto civic list that ran (unsuccessfully in her case) in Bari local elections with the support of the Freedom Party. As of now, however, she claims to have severed all connections with the Freedom Party.

Throughout all of this negative publicity, Berlusconi has by and large remained his energetic and astonishingly optimistic self, joking in public about minors, Noemi and even his one-time lawyer, Englishman David Mills, recently found guilty in Milan of having committed perjury on his behalf. Recently, while campaigning for local elections in Milan, he even told a joke about how “Berlusconi and God” had a “three-hour meeting” in paradise. At the end of the meeting, God was very satisfied with Berlusconi’s business plans for paradise but just a little perplexed as to why the Lord had been penned in for the role of deputy president, while guess-who would be the new president.

Not that this particular joke went down well with everybody in the “God business”. Religious weekly Famiglia Cristiana, run by the Paulist Fathers, last week became the latest “Catholic” voice to sound misgivings about Berlusconi. Replying to the critical comments of readers, many of whom call on the church to issue a “total and absolute disapproval” of Berlusconi’s private behaviour, Don Antonio Sciortino writes: “The question of the personal example for whoever accepts a public office is absolutely fundamental. In other countries, if politicians do not abide by the rules (even minor ones) or if they behave in a questionable manner, then they are forced to resign. Why should Italy be so different?

“He who exercises power, even with a large consensus, cannot hope to function in some sort of offshore zone, free from ethical considerations. Nor can he hope to buy off moral concerns with laws looked on favourably by the church. The church cannot simply abandon its mission and ignore the moral emergency in the public life of the country.”

THOSE CRITICAL COMMENTS follow on from calls for “sobriety in public life” from German Cardinal Walter Kasper as well as a call from religious daily L’Avvenire, urging Berlusconi to issue a “clarification” regarding the Barigate scandals. For 15 years now, the Italian Catholic Church has, by and large, called on the faithful to “hold its nose and vote Berlusconi”. After all, anything is better than voting for the “dirty commie reds”, or even their latter-day descendants. Is that about to change, notwithstanding the fact that at the recent European elections Berlusconi once again proved himself the country’s most popular politician by landing a 35 per cent share of the national vote? While the rest of the world might look on Berlusconi’s recent problems as just another expression of the unending “opera buffo” of Italian political life, some serious questions nonetheless remain unanswered. Just a week away from a G8 summit in L’Aquila, what do the “Barigate” revelations say about the prime minister’s security? Opposition leader Antonio Di Pietro is not alone when he asks just how “blackmailable” is Berlusconi, thanks to his “lively” social life and the comings and goings in his private residences.

Then, too, at the very moment that the Berlusconi government is pushing through parliament a law restricting the use of judicial phone taps, does this case (based on just such taps) not prove their intrinsic value? Furthermore, what do we make of those journalists from state broadcaster RAI who have complained of a news blackout on the story? One suspects that this is going to be a long and hot summer, even for the all-conquering Berlusconi.