Controversy Could Follow Italian Prime Minister to G-8 Summit
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
ROME, July 6 -- The good news for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is that Italians are no longer quite so obsessed with his wife's demand for a divorce or his flirtations with an 18-year-old model. The bad news is that now they are fixated on his parties with paid escorts and the high-priced hooker who has told Italian media that she spent a night with him.
As Berlusconi prepares to host the leaders of the world's major industrial nations, known as the Group of Eight, at a summit starting Wednesday, the biggest question may be whether the Italian leader can get through the week unscathed by any fresh scandals or gaffes. For months, the paparazzi have peddled photos of guests romping nude at his poolside parties, and now prosecutors are nipping at his heels.
"I'm just ashamed to be Italian. That's something many Italians say," Renata Antonante, a 22-year-old actress, said Wednesday as she bought an espresso across the street from Berlusconi's offices at the Palazzo Chigi in central Rome.
Berlusconi, 72, has long fashioned a public persona as a virile Romeo, a man whose eye and appreciation for beautiful women has, if anything, intensified with age. But in recent months, his libido has turned on him.
The embarrassments began in April, when his wife, Veronica, announced that she was dumping him. Among other things, she blasted him for recruiting showgirls to run for elected office and for attending the birthday party of an 18-year-old underwear model in Naples.
Berlusconi responded by saying that he still loved his wife and that "true love stories can never be erased." The prime minister denied any impropriety with the teenage model, saying he attended the party because her father was a political supporter.
Before that controversy could die down, it was replaced by even more explosive revelations: that Berlusconi had entertained escorts during parties at his homes in Rome and the island of Sardinia. Two women have said in separate interviews with Italian newspapers that a Berlusconi acquaintance paid them $1,400 to attend the soirees.
One of them, Patrizia D'Addario, gave intimate details of the night she said she spent with Berlusconi in November, including how they showered together and what they ate for breakfast. "I never slept," she said.
Berlusconi has said he doesn't remember meeting D'Addario and denied ever paying for sex. "I never understood what the satisfaction is when you are missing the pleasure of conquest," he said in an interview with Chi, a weekly magazine owned by the Berlusconi family.
Since then, he has suggested that he was unwittingly set up with the escorts by political enemies scheming to entrap him. At the same time, he has hinted that there's nothing wrong with the prime minister being a playboy.
"This is the way I'm made," he said at a recent news conference. "People take me as they find me. And the Italians want me."
Beppe Severgnini, a columnist for Corriere della Sera, a national newspaper, said Berlusconi was a victim of his own hubris, but also ill-served by staffers afraid to tell their boss to watch his behavior.