Italian judges close in on PM

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The Independent Online
THE uneasy truce between the Italian government of Silvio Berlusconi and the country's anti-corruption judges collapsed yesterday amid reports that the investigation is edging closer to the Prime Minister.

Mr Berlusconi's Justice Minister, Alfredo Biondi, resigned, briefly, in protest over remarks made by the Milanese judge in charge of the investigation, Carlo Saverio Borrelli. The head of the anti-graft team told the Corriere della Sera newspaper that inquiries into the business empire of Mr Berlusconi had reached a crucial point and could 'touch the highest financial and political levels'.

Mr Borrelli also accused the Justice Minister of impertinence and bad taste for questioning the team's methods. That prompted Mr Biondi to resign, bringing nearer a showdown between the investigators and Mr Berlusconi, who was elected in April on a platform of financial probity.

The government reacted furiously, rejecting Mr Biondi's resignation and declaring that 'we consider (the judge's) attack intolerable'. Francesco Speroni, the Minister for Institutional Reform, said: 'It seems to me that (Borrelli) has overstepped the mark. We are getting to the stage of pre-notification of a formal notification of investigation.' This was a reference to the notice given to corruption suspects that they are under investigation. The issuing of such a notice has in the past forced many an old- guard politician out of office and pushed some to suicide.

The political temperature in Rome has hardly dipped since corruption investigators homed in on Mr Berlusconi's business empire in the summer.

Fifteen people suffered minor injuries yesterday when police and protesters clashed outside Mr Berlusconi's office after a demonstration against the government's deficit-cutting budget for 1995.