Rome prosecutors have asked a court to shelve an investigation into whether Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi allegedly abused his office by ferrying personal guests to his private villa on state-financed flights.
The court, which handles allegations of abuse of power by government officials, will now decide whether to accept the prosecutors’ request or continue the probe, Giovanni Ferrara, the lead prosecutor in the case, said in an interview.
Mr. Ferrara’s team has for the past two weeks been looking into whether Mr. Berlusconi transported private guests on a state-owned jet. Mr. Berlusconi has said there was nothing improper because the guests were just hitching a ride on flights that were already carrying official guests to his villa on the island of Sardinia.
Mr. Ferrara said he had asked the court to drop the probe because evidence showed that Mr. Berlusconi was present on the flights. Mr. Berlusconi committed “no damage to the state” by giving musicians and singers a lift on state-planes, Mr. Ferrara said in the interview.
The case against Mr. Berlusconi stems from pictures shot by a photographer at an airport near Villa Certosa, the prime minister and billionaire media mogul’s lavish estate in Sardinia. The photographer also snapped scores of photos of Mr. Berlusconi and his guests at Villa Certosa.
In late May, Mr. Berlusconi’s attorney filed a criminal complaint against the photographer for alleged violation of privacy and attempted blackmail. Acting on the complaint, prosecutors placed the photographer under investigation and seized hundreds of his photos. After reviewing photos taken by the photographer at the Sardinia airport, however, prosecutors decided to also place the prime minister under investigation for allegedly misusing state assets.
Mr. Berlusconi’s personal life has been the focus of public scrutiny since late April, when the prime minister attended the 18th birthday party of an aspiring model. Days later Mr. Berlusconi’s wife Veronica Lario accused him of “consorting with minors” and announced she was seeking a divorce. Mr. Berlusconi has denied having a “spicy” affair with the woman. So far, the controversy hasn’t cut into Mr. Berlusconi’s support among Italian voters.
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