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Europe

Berlusconi protests innocence in naked photos scandal

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-06-05

Red-faced Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi insisted on Friday he had nothing to fear after the publication of photos showing topless women and a naked man sunbathing at his island villa.

AFP - Italy's scandal-plagued Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi angrily insisted Friday he had nothing to fear after the publication of photos showing topless women and a naked man sunbathing at his island villa.

Berlusconi's lawyer vowed to sue Spain's El Pais after the daily published the pictures, which were among hundreds of photos that had been seized by Italian authorities after the premier filed a complaint to block their release.

The pictures were released on the eve of European Parliament elections in Italy, which could now serve as a test on the scandal's impact on his popularity.

But Berlusconi, already engulfed in scandal over his wife's decision to divorce him and his links to an aspiring teenage model, insisted that the photos were "innocent".

"I am not frightened. These are innocent photos, there is no scandal, but there has been an aggressive intrusion into my private life," he said on Italian public radio.

"The photos show people bathing in a jacuzzi inside a private property, something party guests were invited to do," he added.

One of the five photos published by El Pais shows the 72-year-old media mogul surrounded by several unidentified women -- in their clothes -- in the garden of his majestic villa in Sardinia.

Another shot features two women in string bikinis sunbathing topless, while another photo shows a naked man standing next to a woman laying next to a swimming pool. All the faces except Berlusconi's were blurred out.

"It's just not right for someone a kilometer away to interfere and start taking photos ... The right to a private life must have greater protection when important guests are present," Berlusconi said.

Berlusconi's lawyer, Niccolo Ghedini, said recently that the seized pictures included an image of a naked former Czech prime minister Mirek Topolanek, who denied the claim.

The publication of the pictures came two days after Berlusconi was placed under investigation for allegedly misusing his official plane to fly personal guests, including a flamenco dancer and a well-known singer, to his villa.

Public prosecutors in Rome had ordered the seizure of the photos after the Italian premier complained his right to privacy had been violated.

Ghedini told AFP on Friday he was filing a suit against El Pais.

"Prosecutors in Rome ruled that these photos were taken illegally, they are the result of an offence and cannot be sold. Anyone who buys them is also guilty of a misdemeanour," he said.

Juan Cruz, an assistant director at El Pais, said the newspaper was not aware of any legal action. When asked about the legality of the photographs, he said: "We consider (their publication) is in the public interest."

Berlusconi, who is hosting the Group of Eight summit next month, has lashed out at the foreign media's coverage of him in recent days.

He has taken his anger out on Rupert Murdoch after the rival media mogul's London newspaper The Times wrote an editorial titled "The Clown's Mask Slips," which said Berlusconi "must answer allegations of womanising."

A Berlusconi family newspaper, Il Giornale, denounced the foreign media on Friday in an article titled "Starlettes and lies: how they insult Italy."

Berlusconi is under pressure to explain his relationship with the 18-year-old, which also features in the row with his second wife, Veronica Lario, who has filed for divorce.

Marco Belpoliti, author of a book on Berlusconi, said the prime minister was "in great difficulty" as he was losing his grip on a political strategy founded on a tightly controlled image.

"Once immortal, he has become a mortal like other celebrities whose pictures are published in the people press," Belpoliti told AFP.

Date created : 2009-06-05

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