Special Davos meeting considers cost of Berlusconi's 'bunga, bunga' business


WITH THE domestic political tensions generated by the “Rubygate” sex scandal involving Silvio Berlusconi showing no signs of abating, the echoes of “Bunga, Bunga” managed to make themselves heard at the World Economic Forum in Davos last weekend.

According to Italian media reports, a Davos meeting entitled, “Italy, A Special Case”, saw commentators argue that “Rubygate” was symptomatic of a “serious problem of leadership” in Italy.

Milan prosecutors suspect that Berlusconi paid for sex with a “significant” number of prostitutes, including a then 17-year-old nightclub dancer who goes by the name of “Ruby the Heart Stealer”, at parties in his luxurious villa.

Economist Nouriel Roubini told a gathering which included Italian bankers and industrialists: “Normally I only talk economics, but in your case the problem of government is becoming serious, a real distraction that stops you doing the things you should do.

“Right now, you are facing accusations of a total prostitution of the state, of orgies with underage girls and of attempts to block the judiciary. You have a serious leadership problem that is blocking the reforms that Italy needs . . .”

Back in Italy, however, Mr Berlusconi appeared to be more concerned with the Milan-based “Rubygate” investigation in which he could face charges of “exploitation of underage prostitution” and “abuse of public office”.

In yet another recorded TV message, Mr Berlusconi again argued that the accusations against him were nothing other than “mud”, the fruit of a conspiracy “of old politics” and “a politicised judiciary”.

Senior representatives of the judiciary, however, speaking at a series of ceremonies marking the formal opening of the judicial year on Saturday, replied almost immediately to the prime minister’s accusations.

“To define those who attempt to enforce legality as conspirators is not only offensive, it is also profoundly unjust . . . No [other] leader in the democratic world, under investigation, has ever tried to defend himself FROM the trial, rather than IN the trial,” said the former mafia investigator, Giancarlo Caselli, in Turin.

In Florence, the chief prosecutor, Beniamino Deidda, was equally emphatic in his rejection of the prime minister’s allegations, saying: “We don’t deserve to be threatened by those who represent high office but we will not be intimidated because we are used to ignoring threats and insults, especially when they come from the accused.”

Perhaps alarmed by the signs of an escalation in the “warfare” between the prime minister and the judiciary, state President Giorgio Napolitano reportedly intervened over the weekend, reminding the government majority that he has it within his powers to dissolve parliament and call an early election.

The president’s warning may have had something to do with the ruling majority’s decision not to stage a threatened protest against the judiciary in Milan on February 13th.

Both the president and police authorities were worried by the fact that the People Of Freedom party (PDL) demonstration might have clashed with a pro-magistrate demonstration, due to be held outside Milan’s main courthouse on the same day. This latter demonstration has been called for by the popular TV news presenter, Michele Santoro, whose Annozero news programme has often been very critical of Mr Berlusconi.

Meanwhile, there was further bad news for Mr Berlusconi last weekend when it was confirmed that a trial involving his Mediaset TV company, in which he stands accused of tax evasion, will resume at the end of next month.