Silvio Berlusconi: Polish MEP urges former Italian premier to send vodka back to Putin

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By Sandor Zsiros  & Lauren Chadwick
Italian former Premier Silvio Berlusconi, right, and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin talk during a press conference near Milan, Italy. 26 April 2010
Italian former Premier Silvio Berlusconi, right, and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin talk during a press conference near Milan, Italy. 26 April 2010   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Luca Bruno, file

Silvio Berlusconi should send any vodka he received as a gift back to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the head of the Polish European People's Party delegation warned on Wednesday.

"I would like to rather advise to Mr. Berlusconi to send the vodka back," said MEP Andrzej Halicki in an interview with Euronews, adding that it was "not time for any contact with Putin."

In a leaked recording, Italy's former prime minister claimed to rekindle ties with the Russian president, reportedly stating that Putin had sent Berlusconi 20 bottles of vodka for his birthday. Berlusconi's team have denied this.

"Mr. Putin is not a friend, but he is a war criminal. His place is in The Hague. He should be punished by the International Criminal Court. This is the legal way for Putin, not celebrating the birthdays," Halicki, who is from Poland, said.

European Commission spokesperson Nabila Massrali said on Tuesday afternoon that while there is no ban on contacts with Russian counterparts, "these contacts should of course convey EU positions regarding the illegitimate invasion and aggression against Ukraine and call on Russian counterparts to stop it immediately and comply with international law."

Spokeswoman Arianna Podesta also said it was decided as part of EU sanctions to ban Russian imports of hard alcohols including vodka. She added that she would check if gifts were part of the sanctions.

Berlusconi, leader of the Forza Italia party, is one of the junior partners of the right-wing coalition led by Giorgia Meloni that came first in last month's Italian elections.

His party belongs to the main centre-right European political group -- the European People's Party (EPP) of which Halicki is head of the Polish delegation.

"I'm very angry with not the first sign which is against the EPP line and policy and also against the European Union unity and cohesion policy on that," Halicki said.