As a reaction to the investigations into his alleged crimes and misdemeanors, Silvio Berlusconi said in July he wanted to leave Italy, which he described as a “shitty country” that “sickened” him.
Silvio Berlusconi‘s astonishing remarks are contained in the transcript of a telephone conversation secretly recorded by police investigating claims he was being blackmailed about his sex life.
Early in the morning on Thursday, police descended to a flat near Via Veneto, one of Rome’s most expensive streets, to arrest Giampaolo Tarantini, a central figure in a scandal that threatened to bring down the Italian PM two years ago.
Giampaolo Tarantini’s wife, Angela Devenuto, was also taken into custody and a search launched for a third person. The arrest warrant shows that the three are accused of extorting at least €500,000 (about $700,000) “as well as other benefits of economic significance”. Silvio Berlusconi has admitted paying the couple, but said he did so voluntarily.
Two years ago, Giampaolo Tarantini, a businessman from Bari in southern Italy, said he supplied 30 women for parties at the Silvio Berlusconi’s Roman palazzo. He told police at least six women spent the night there.
According to the judicial arrest warrant issued on Thursday, a third person – Valter Lavitola, the editor of a small newspaper – maintained direct contact with Silvio Berlusconi and received the cash in monthly installments from the prime minister’s personal secretary.
It was in a phone conversation with Valter Lavitola late on 13 July that Silvio Berlusconi was said by the judge to have erupted in anger.
“They can say about me that I screw. It’s the only thing they can say about me. Is that clear?” he said to the man allegedly blackmailing him.
“They can put listening devices where they like. They can tap my telephone calls. I don’t give a f**k. I … In a few months, I’m getting out to mind my own f***ing business, from somewhere else, and so I’m leaving this shitty country of which I’m sickened.”
The Italian prime minister was speaking 4 days after a court in Milan dealt him the heaviest blow he has suffered in his long and intensely controversial business career. The court ruled that the firm at the core of his group of companies should pay €560 million to his bitterest commercial rival as compensation for bribing a judge in order to win control of Mondadori, Italy’s biggest publisher.
The conversation took place at the height of a crisis on the financial markets, and in the midst of frantic efforts in parliament to approve a package of measures designed to eliminate Italy’s budget deficit.
Silvio Berlusconi’s public silence during this period attracted comment at the time, particularly in the financial media.
The sex scandal at the origin of the latest allegations was one of several involving Silvio Berlusconi in the past three years. The prime minister is on trial in Milan charged with paying an underage prostitute and then using his position to cover up the alleged offence, but that case is not related to the one that has now come back to haunt him.
Details of the latest investigation were leaked last month in a news magazine belonging to Berlusconi. The magazine, Panorama, claimed the prosecutors believed Giampaolo Tarantini was being paid to stop him contradicting Silvio Berlusconi’s claim that he was unaware that some of the women who visited his home were prostitutes.
According to Panorama, Tarantini had repeatedly confirmed in wiretapped conversations that Silvio Berlusconi was indeed oblivious of the payments the women were receiving.
Silvio Berlusconi, 75, has made much over the years of his talents as a playboy and has insisted he would never pay for sex.
Panorama claimed the main reason Silvio Berlusconi was passing money to Tarantini was to ensure he did a deal with the prosecutors to avoid a trial and the disclosure of “telephone wiretaps held to be embarrassing”. The Italian prime minister told the magazine:
“I helped someone and a family with children who found themselves and continue to find themselves in very serious financial difficulty. I didn’t do anything illegal. I limited myself to helping a desperate man without asking for anything in exchange. That’s the way I am and nothing will change that.”