One of Silvio Berlusconi’s key media outlets was yesterday accused of hounding the magistrate leading the prosecution of the 76-year-old former premier on sex and corruption charges in Milan.
Photos of the prosecutor Ilda Boccassini appear in the weekly magazine Chi, with captions apparently intended to belittle the magistrate as she goes about her business.
But with little dirt to dish on the famous crime fighter, the weekly gossip magazine is reduced to reporting that she threw a cigarette butt on the ground and “carelessly” left a glass of beer half finished. The article also attempts to ridicule her “multi-striped wool socks, €21”.
Mr Berlusconi, however, is accused of more serious offences. Ms Boccassini is pressing for long sentences against the three-time premier in the “Rubygate” trial in which he is accused of paying for sex with under-aged prostitute Karima El Mahroug, nicknamed Ruby and abusing his office to cover it up. The verdict is due in February.
Chi is part of the tycoon’s Mondadori publishing house, which is run by his daughter, Marina. The magazine ran topless photos of Kate Middleton earlier this year. Corriere Della Sera described Chi’s coverage of Ms Boccassini as another example of the Berlusconi-owned media “trying to tarnishing any person considered dangerous or a nuisance for the politician-proprietor of the Mediaset empire”.
The article appears to mirror the harassment of the judge Raimondo Mesiano in 2009 after he ordered Mr Berlusconi’s Fininvest group to make a massive €750m (£610m) compensation payment to a rival company.
Within days of Judge Mesiano’s order, the then Prime Minister’s flagship Canale 5 channel began secretly filming the magistrate in the streets of Milan as he went about his business.
The results were beamed to millions on the Mattino 5 programme, accompanied by a voiceover that ridiculed Mesiano for his “extravagant” and “eccentric behaviour”, his “impatience” and even his “turquoise socks”.
Opposition MPs, the national magistrates’ association and even some Mediaset insiders expressed outrage at what appeared to be attempts to embarrass or intimidate a judge who had crossed the mogul’s path.
In the past week Mr Berlusconi has set in motion the full power of his media empire to back his plans to become premier for the fourth time, with a series of fawning interviews on his national television channels. During one of these he made the timely announcement that he was in a steady relationship, with a 27-year-old former member of one of his fan clubs. He is also rumoured to be preparing a big-name signing for his AC Milan club in the New Year – maybe Didier Drogba – again, to boost popularity ahead of the general election, which President Giorgio Napolitano has called for 24 February. He is currently trailing in the polls.
Meanwhile, it was widely predicted yesterday that Mario Monti, the technocrat premier who has led Italy through the eurozone debt crisis for the past 13 months, will play a key role in the forthcoming general election in order to keep Silvio Berlusconi out of office. Pressure has been building on Mr Monti to form and even lead a new group of centrist politicians and businessmen to fight the election.
Some pundits have expressed doubts over whether Mr Monti would find enough capable centrist politicians and businessmen to stand. “No one has explained how he might find candidates for the 945 posts in Parliament to be filled in a month,” said James Walston, a politics professor at the American University in Rome.