Berlusconi fights back: 'If they were pretty, where's the harm in that?'

Italian PM says wife's decision to divorce is a trap set by his enemies

Silvio Berlusconi's uncharacteristic silence lasted less than a day. After initially restricting himself to a neutral, carefully worded, one-sentence statement on his wife's decision to start divorce proceedings, the Italian Prime Minister yesterday let fly with both barrels. "I am indignant," he said in a front-page interview with Italy's biggest-selling daily, Corriere della Sera. "Veronica has fallen into a trap. And I know who she is being advised by. Or rather, being incited by."

He rejected her charges point by point. The "showgirls" he wanted to put up as candidates in the upcoming European elections, described by his irate wife as "entertainment for the emperor"? They were "brilliant girls with excellent exam results," he said, "and if they were pretty too, where's the harm in that?"

The visit to 18-year-old Noemi Letizia's birthday party? That was down to arm-twisting by her father, "a friend I have known for a long time". The fact that Noemi calls him Daddy? "It's just a joke, they wanted to call me Grandpa but Daddy is better, don't you think?" Most hurtful of all, Mr Berlusconi said, was Veronica's accusation that he "went around with minors". Reading the reports in Sunday's newspapers in Rome "I flew into a rage". "How can anyone suppose that I would show up at a family home if something sordid was going on? Do they think I'm crazy?" And in the depths of his fury he turned Veronica's famous demand for a public apology after his scurrilous flirting two years ago back on its author. Asked if a reconciliation was possible, Mr Berlusconi replied: "I don't believe so, this time I don't even know if I want it. Veronica would have to apologise to me publicly. And I don't know if that would be enough. This is the third time that she's played a joke like this on me in the middle of an election campaign. It's really over the top."

He told La Stampa newspaper that he had called in the lawyers this time: "To tell the truth, there may even be conditions to sue for defamation, but it's best to leave that alone."

Mr Berlusconi appears to have convinced himself that his wife has been cunningly manipulated by hidden political enemies on the left. Just last Friday, he had declared himself the world's most popular leader, riding high in the opinion polls, enjoying a safe majority in parliament and facing an opposition that had failed to make a dent. Then his wife of 19 years drops the divorce bombshell just weeks before the European elections. "Do you know what I call everything that has happened in the past few days? Media crime," the Italian leader and media magnate said. "Veronica has simply fallen into a media trap. She has given credence to all the inaccurate things in the papers, unfortunately... I believe this is a set-up."

Mr Berlusconi has often described the moment in 1980, when he first clapped eyes on the 24-year-old Veronica Lario, performing topless at a Milan theatre, as love at first sight. He left his first wife for Ms Lario and the couple had three children, before marrying in 1990. But as he moved into politics, she rarely appeared in the supporting First Lady role, and the pair lived in separate apartments.

Mr Berlusconi – now 72 and estimated by Forbes magazine to have a private fortune of £4.4bn – has not exchanged so much as a text message or a telephone call with his 52-year-old wife since war broke out last week. He learned of Veronica's demand for a divorce towards midnight on Saturday when he was alone at his apartment in Palazzo Grazioli in central Rome. As La Repubblica reported it, his trusty lawyer Niccolo Ghedini rang on his secure telephone line. "Veronica has just called me," said Mr Ghedini. "She said she's going to ask for a divorce. She doesn't want to talk to you. She warned that we will read all about it [in the Sunday papers]."

Yesterday Dario Franceschini, leader of the opposition Democratic Party, condemned the Prime Minister's "pathetic" attempt to blame his marital problems on a conspiracy. "Avoid saying pathetic things to try to distract the attention of the Italians," he advised Mr Berlusconi.

While Ms Lario has given no one reason to believe that her decision was the fruit of anything other than long years of neglect and infidelity, that has not prevented hundreds of Mr Berlusconi's opponents from hailing her as the leader they have been yearning for. The opposition is adrift in the polls and desperately short of charismatic leaders. In recent years, Ms Lario has not hesitated to voice her opposition to her husband's policies. And with her unique insider knowledge, she is probably the only figure who might have him running for cover.

Veronica: A political rival for Silvio?

"Veronica is the real opposition leader" – Vittorio Sgarbi, mayor of Salemi and Euro candidate

n "If Veronica asked for my vote she would get it" – Cosimo Piediscalzi on Facebook fan group

You are the only real opposition in this shitty country" – Giuseppe Confalon on Facebook fan group

"You could be our leader, having gone head-to-head with Napoleon!" – Giusy Valenti on Facebook fan group

"Go for it, Veronica! Leave him in his underwear! We are all behind you!" – Gabriella Margherita Bartocci on Facebook fan group

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Day In a Page

Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference