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Berlusconi, Antigua, Report, Question Marks

Silvio Berlusconi

The Report documentary programme broadcast by the RAI 3 television channel is already unpopular with Italy’s government for shedding light on many of Italy’s dark sides.  Last night, despite threats from Berlusconi’s lawyer who wanted to ban the programme, Report covered Silvio Berlusconi’s ownership of a luxury residential complex in offshore tax haven, Antigua.  Report’s report raised a few questions.

In an attempt at a pre-emptive strike, Berlusconi’s lawyer, and member of the Berlusconi government, Nicolo Ghedini stated that the Report piece (which he had not seen) on his master was defamatory and should not be broadcast.  Report went ahead anyway. Today the questions asked on Report about a complex property deal have reached the front pages of a few Italian newspapers – such as La Repubblica, Il Fatto Quotidiano, Corriere della Sera, and La Stampa.

Italy’s charismatic leader is once again in the spotlight – for all the wrong reasons.

Of the various questions Antigua-gate has raised, one is: Why was Silvio Berlusconi using a bank, Banca Arner, under investigation for money laundering, to transfer sums of money, albeit in a roundabout way, to Antigua?  And movements of money from Milan to Switzerland were not subject, apparently, to controls designed to reduce money laundering activities. This caught the eye of the Bank of Italy.

There are other curiosities too.

Nobody seems to know where the money – €22 million – Berlusconi sent to Antigua ended up.  Who was the recipient?  For the moment, nobody knows.  However, seeing as Berlusconi friendly paper Il Giornale has been hounding ex-political partner and now arch-rival Gianfranco Fini to come clean on a, much lower value, property deal in Monte Carlo, it seems only fair that Berlusconi reveals who got the money.  The journalist running the Report documentary, Milena Gabanelli, claims there is nothing more to Antigua-gate than transparency.  If Berlusconi answers the questions, then the matter can be laid to rest.  Of course, if he skirts around the subject, everybody will think the worst, and Berlusconi ends up looking bad.

UPDATE: 21st October, 2010

Berlusconi announced today that he has instructed his lawyers to bring a case against the RAI 3 Report programme for defamation.  Milena Gabanelli the presenter of Report stated that this was Berlusconi’s right, but that the question raised by the programme remained unanswered – namely ‘From whom, exactly, did Berlusconi buy land on Antigua?’.  The person who controls the companies behind the Antigua development is know known, but the owner of the land Berlusconi purchased is not.

Can a case for defamation be brought against anyone who as merely posed questions?  Any lawyers out there care to express an opinion.

All part of the fun – Berlusconi, who is actively pursuing a law which will guarantee him immunity from persecution  – which will also be retroactive – will be able to bring cases against others, but others will be unable to bring cases against him.  This would mean the section of the Italian constitution which states that all are equal in the eyes of the law is no longer accurate.  This does not seem just.  Europe’s court of human rights may have something to say on this.  Anyway, we’ll see.

Milena Gabanelli is definitely on Berlusconi’s hit list!

End of 21st October update

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UPDATE: 20th October, 2010
The person controlling the companies behind the Antigua development is a Swiss lawyer called Carlo Postizzi.  Postizzi claims, in an article in today’s Il Giornale, that he was contacted by the Report team but that he was not given a full enough opportunity to respond to questions posed by the Report journalist – I saw the programme and it sounded as if Postizzi did not really want to respond.  Anyway, part of the mystery is no longer mysterious.  Berlusconi loves Antigua because of its beauty, nothing more, nothing less, says Postizzi.

According to Postizzi, Antigua is no longer on a tax haven black list, and is in the process of being moved to a white list.

Berlusconi’s Antigua connection is not being investigated either in Italy or at international level.

At the end of the day, Report’s questions have been partially answered, which is only really what was wanted.

End of 20th October update

Then there is the complex itself.  It’s huge and impressive – there are photos here.  Berlusconi’s own villa is more of a palace – it’s huge.  Then there is the rather nice villa belonging to an ex-prime minister of Antigua – which is within the luxury development, which may or may not be owned by Silvio Berlusconi.  Who backed the development company, called Flat Point, remains a mystery, as does who owns the complex.  Report also made the point that the €22 million which Berlusconi put into the project seemed rather low.  Some 60 or so luxury houses make up the mystery development on Antigua.

So Berlusconi has a few questions to answer, and is not too happy about his affairs being subject to the public spotlight.  Still, that’s the price you pay for being a public figure.

The other question is just why Berlusconi was so keen to establish himself in Antigua – which is a black-listed tax haven renown for not cooperating with investigators trying to establish whether gains secreted on the islands multitude of banks are ill-gotten.  There is more.

It’s looking as though Berlusconi helped Antigua out with its public debt problem (Antigua Newsletter September 2005 – see page 5 – PDF file 631kb), but it’s not as though Antigua is some struggling underdeveloped nation.

Lots of questions and not too many answers, but once again, all this attention means Berlusconi is going to be distracted from his real job – that of running Italy.

Well, if Berlusconi does finally decide to call it a day, at least he has a lovely mansion on Antigua to retire to, although he is somewhat spoilt for choice on the retirement home front, seeing as he has around twenty properties to choose from.

More Machiavellian intrigue from the Living Museum.

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