Silvio Berlusconi may be one of the more entertaining politicians in the western world.
Although promising not to be considered for prime minister if his party, the People of Freedom, manages to gain power, he still commands media attention, largely because of his penchant for saying exactly what is on his mind.
He once defended Mussolini’s support of Hitler by saying that Il Duce wanted to be on the winning side. In a speech before the New York stock exchange, he told brokers they should invest in Italy because of “the beautiful secretaries.”
Speaking of which, the former prime minister has a reputation as something of a bon vivant with the ladies – even if they aren’t quite of legal age. Sometime after the election, he will go on trial for paying for sex with a minor.
He has been convicted of tax fraud, and the list of allegations of wrongdoing against him is eye-popping. So it was no surprise when Berlusconi defended bribery as just a cost of doing business in Italy.
“Bribes are a phenomenon that exists and it’s useless to deny the existence of these necessary situations when you are negotiating with third world countries and regimes,” Mr Berlusconi, leader of a centre-right coalition and seeking his fourth stint in office, said on Thursday.
Mr Berlusconi defended Giuseppe Orsi, head of the state-controlled Finmeccanica defence group who was arrested on Tuesday and accused of involvement in bribes paid to Indian government officials to secure a helicopter contract. Mr Orsi, appointed chief executive under the last centre-right government in 2011 and replaced on Wednesday, has denied the accusations.
“These are not crimes,” said Mr Berlusconi, describing payments as “commissions”. He also defended state-controlled energy group Eni, whose chief executive Paolo Scaroni is under investigation for alleged bribes paid by its Saipem subsidiary to win contracts in Algeria. Mr Scaroni denies the allegations.
Corruption scandals are dominating Italy’s election campaign, feeding a longstanding anger among voters at the close links between politics and business, with opinion polls indicating a fragmented and possibly hung parliament after the February 24-25 election.
Pier Luigi Bersani, leader of the centre-left Democrats, expressed his concern about the impact of the scandals on voters’ perception of the political class, noting the rise in polls of the anti-establishment movement led by comedian Beppe Grillo.
“We are not worried because we think Grillo can get more votes than us – he will not. We are worried because disaffection and rage are spreading fast across Italy,” Mr Bersani told the Financial Times while campaigning in Avellino. “This rage has to be conveyed into a serious government for the
No matter who wins the election and who becomes prime minister, you can be sure that Silvio Berlusconi will continue to receive a lot of attention from the media. He’s just too delicious a headline writer not to.