Berlusconi Postpones Message On Future After Tax Conviction

by
Reuters
Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has postponed until Wednesday an announcement likely to steer away from moves to bring down the government following his tax fraud conviction, political sources said.

* Berlusconi known for changing mind

* Message now expected on Wednesday

* Supreme court hits Berlusconi with new setback

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has postponed until Wednesday an announcement likely to steer away from moves to bring down the government following his tax fraud conviction, political sources said.

The media magnate, known for sudden changes of mood, had been expected to issue a video message to Italians on Tuesday on the resurrection of his original centre-right political party, Forza Italia, or Go Italy.

The party was the vehicle with which Berlusconi, a self-made billionaire, stormed into politics in 1994 after a bribery scandal swept away the old post-war order in Italy.

Political sources said Berlusconi, 76, was expected to step back in his message from weeks of threats to sink the right-left coalition government of Prime Minister Enrico Letta if the Senate votes to expel him from parliament over the conviction.

However Angelino Alfano, national secretary of Berlusconi's current party, People of Freedom (PDL), said his leader would meet with PDL ministers late on Wednesday or Thursday and only then would they take a decision on the government.

Speaking in an interview on state television, Alfano, who is also deputy prime minister, said he believed Berlusconi would "announce the re-birth of a great political movement that has had a positive impact on our political history."

Sources in the PDL, which replaced Forza Italia in 2008, said the pre-recorded message would now be transmitted on Wednesday, just before a Senate committee is due to take a preliminary vote.

Some political sources said the master communicator wanted to avoid being upstaged by the successful raising of the wrecked Costa Concordia cruise liner from rocks off the Tuscan coast on Tuesday.

The supreme court handed a new rebuff to Berlusconi on Tuesday, ordering his Fininvest holding company to pay damages of 540 million euros ($721 million) to the CIR firm owned by the family of business rival Carlo De Benedetti.

The fine was imposed over a disputed takeover battle for publisher Mondadori. Berlusconi's former lawyer was convicted in 2007 of bribing a judge to rule in favour of Fininvest.

Analysts suggested Berlusconi may want to include the judgement in his message on Wednesday, which will come a few hours before a Senate committee is expected to reject attempts to block his expulsion from parliament over the tax conviction.

Berlusconi appears to be using the revival of Forza Italia to regain the political initiative following his conviction for a giant fraud at his Mediaset television empire, for which he faces either a year's house arrest or community service.

CONCILIATORY LINE

If he sticks to a conciliatory line this week it will signal the victory of party doves and business advisors who have tried to undermine the efforts of hawkish Berlusconi supporters to push him towards forcing snap elections.

Il Giornale newspaper, run by Berlusconi's brother, suggested the tycoon was adopting a softer tone towards Letta's government, an uneasy coalition of the PDL and the premier's centre-left Democratic Party (PD).

After weeks of debate, party doves, relatives and leaders of his business empire have apparently persuaded him that torpedoing the government in the midst of Italy's worst post-war recession would misfire for the centre right.

A source close to Berlusconi said some of his oldest advisers, including veteran political consigliere Gianni Letta and close business aides, were united in advising him not to provoke a crisis that would severely damage his media interests.

His eldest child Marina, 47, was also pushing to avert a crisis which could misfire for Berlusconi and the $6.6 billion business empire she now heads. Of his five children from two marriages, only Pier Silvio, his 44-year-old son, was supporting the position of the hawks, the source said.