A double problem has exploded in Silvio Berlusconi’s lap, just a month before Italians go to the polls in a general election.
Trailing the centre-left opposition in opinion polls but campaigning hard, the Italian prime minister may now find himself in court again on charges of corruption. Prosecutors in Milan today accused him of bribing British lawyer David Mills to give misleading testimony in his support in two earlier court cases, and have asked a judge to try the pair. The Mills connection has made waves in Britian, as he is married to Culture Minister Tessa Jowell. Last Saturday, Jowell announced she was separating from her husband of 27 years. She claims she knew nothing of the alleged bribe. Berlusconi is accused of tax evasion when his media empire, Fininvest, allegedly bought broadcast film rights at over-inflated prices, through companies registered in tax havens and third parties allegedly tailor-made for his purposes by Mills. In a separate affair on Friday, Berlusconi lost another minister and member of key coalition party Alliance Nazionale. Health Minister Francesco Storaci has not been implicated by name in the scandal that has led to his fall but he has resigned, he says, to prevent the issue weighing on a government fighting for re-election. Last year Storaci was bidding to retain the presidency of the Rome region in elections. Now it has emerged that the Alliance Nazionale camp had planted a spy in the opposition’s midst, bugging phones and computers. Some 15 people have been arrested in the course of the inquiry and if Storaci is implicated he will be in breach of Italian electoral law, a serious offence leading to prison.