New scandal papers pile pressure on Berlusconi
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi faced more pressure to resign on Thursday after magistrates issued new documents with fresh details of erotic parties, some with underage girls, and of his gifts to participants.
The centre-left opposition said the new documents made his position “untenable” and said he should resign willingly or that his conservative allies should put pressure on him to step aside for the good of the country.
The 227 pages of new documents were sent by Milan magistrates to parliament on Wednesday night and chunks were leaked to Italian media, which published excerpts on Thursday.
They say a second woman who attended the parties was under age at the time, in addition to a Moroccan dancer at the centre of the inquiry, who was 17 when some of the parties were held.
They also show that a key Berlusconi associate who is being investigated on suspicion of procuring prostitutes is privately turning against him and made disparaging remarks about his physique and age in phone conversations taped by police.
The magistrates have so far sent more than 600 pages of documents to parliament to support their request to search the office of Berlusconi’s accountant, who is suspected of dispensing money and gifts to the women.
A parliamentary panel on Thursday recommended that the search request be rejected, however, saying the whole investigation should be handled by a different court which is responsible for judging the conduct of ministers.
The panel, made up largely of centre-right lawmakers, rejected the request by 11 votes to eight. The final decision on the search will be made by a vote of all deputies in the lower house, where Berlusconi has a slim majority.
Asked about the new leaks, Berlusconi responded late on Wednesday that the investigation was itself “scandalous.”
One of Berlusconi’s most loyal allies, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, rejected suggestions that the centreright government should dump Berlusconi because of the scandal.
He said Berlusconi’s PDL party “does not have its hands free to change its leader without (general) elections.”
“It would be absolutely mistaken to think of a change of leadership,” Frattini told a lunch of foreign correspondents, saying Berlusconi had been chosen directly by voters at the last election in 2008.
He conceded that the scandal had damaged Italy’s image abroad but said this was the fault of politicized, biased magistrates and not Berlusconi, saying the evidence of many people showed the allegations were false.
Excerpts in Italian media of transcripts of police interrogations of the women and phone wiretaps describing wild parties emerged just two days after Berlusconi’s lawyers filed documents saying the encounters were friendly dinners.