Berlusconi's brother faces bribery claim

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The Independent Online
THE tangentopoli corruption scandals appeared to move closer to Silvio Berlusconi, media magnate turned political leader, yesterday after his brother Paolo was accused of paying a large bribe to political parties over a property deal.

Giuseppe Clerici, a former senior official of the Cassa di Risparmio delle Provincie Lombarde (Cariplo) savings bank who later became a property agent, has allegedly told Milan's Clean Hands investigating magistrates that Paolo Berlusconi paid a 5 per cent rake-off on the sale of some property to the bank's pension fund. The 1,100 million lire (pounds 440,000) was destined via the bank's top officials for the parties that effectively controlled it: the Christian Democrats and the Socialists, he claimed.

At the time of the sale, which took place in the mid-Eighties, the property company concerned belonged to Silvio Berlusconi's Fininvest empire but was administered by Paolo. In 1992 it passed formally into Paolo's possession.

Paolo Berlusconi has flatly denied the allegation, saying he paid Mr Clerici 2 per cent of the overall sum as a perfectly legal fee for services as intermediary in the deal. Silvio Berlusconi said the allegations were a 'complete invention' and suggested they were intended to damage his election campaign.

The chairman and two top officials of Cariplo, which is the biggest savings bank in the world, are under arrest for alleged corruption. At least 13 top executives of 10 Italian banks are now under investigation for corruption, receiving stolen money and other crimes uncovered by magistrates in recent weeks.

President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro has been having talks with the official Guarantor of press and broadcasting fairness, Giuseppe Santaniello, after appeals from the speakers of the two houses of parliament and fierce protests from elsewhere about the imbalance in the media in favour of Mr Berlusconi.

According to figures published in the newspapers yesterday, Mr Berlusconi's three channels gave Mr Berlusconi's campaign 148min 53sec broadcasting time last weekend compared with 13sec to 3min 4sec for more moderate groups, 53sec for the Greens and none for the rest of the left. Mr Berlusconi's allies, the Northern League, got 28min 26sec. This does not include Mr Berlusconi's party political commercials which appear on his channels several times a day.

To be fair, nothing much was happening on the non-Green left while the groups that got time were all having congresses or assemblies. The three state-owned Rai channels gave Mr Berlusconi 16min 7sec, the League 25min 5sec and the Greens 6min 45sec.

Fedele Confalionieri, Silvio Berlusconi's right-hand man who is formally heading his Fininvest empire while the tycoon is engaged in politics, has attempted to counter charges of bias by nominating Gianni Letta, head of the Fininvest communications division, as guarantor and co-ordinator of Berlusconi political reporting.

Under current Italian law rules governing broadcasting fairness in election campaigns only come into force 30 days before polling day - which means that Mr Berlusconi enjoys a huge advantage over his opponents until 24 February.

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