Lawyer warns of red card for Berlusconi in football scandal

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The Independent Online

Silvio Berlusconi has been out of power for only a fortnight, but suddenly he looks vulnerable. Already his continued leadership of the centre-right is being questioned; next week his name will once again be dragged through the courts in the company of that of David Mills on charges of bribery and corruption.

Yesterday, his ownership of Milan, his beloved Serie A football team, began to look troublesome after a lawyer claimed in an interview that Italy's football scandal could be traced back to the rossoneri, (red and blacks) as Mr Berlusconi's side is known.

Until now, the football scandal has centred on the championship-winning Turin team Juventus and their former director general Luciano Moggi, who is accused of having been at the centre of the so-called "Moggi system", in which corrupted referees and other officials were manipulated to obtain the results that would keep Juventus at the top of Serie A.

But in an interview in the Turin newspaper La Stampa yesterday, Mr Moggi's lawyer Fulvio Gianaria, claimed it was ridiculous to see his client as a monster of corruption. Pointing out that the charges against Mr Moggi were based on a tiny fraction of thousands of recorded phone conversations, he claimed "the carabinieri chose the conversations they regarded as relevant".

Instead, he claimed Mr Moggi "always moved to preserve the force of Juventus from the centre of important power" which was, he claimed, in Milan. He is the latest of several figures, including Fabio Cannavaro, captain of Juventus and Italy, to have hinted that the scandal goes beyond the Turin club to Mr Berlusconi.

If that remains a distant threat, the crumbling of Mr Berlusconi's political clout is happening here and now. The regional elections held over the weekend were meant, in his words, to give a spallata (a firm shove) to Mr Prodi and the centre-left, who scraped to power by the slimmest of margins this month.

Instead, the elections gave a nasty jolt to Mr Berlusconi, leaving the centre-left with increased majorities in major cities and only Milan, his stronghold, still in his hands. The sun is setting on the Berlusconi era, according to the commentator Massimo Franco: "With the regional elections even the illusion of the ex-premier as a formidable vote-catcher has dissolved... Berlusconi seems to be stuck in a blind alley."

Even the right-wing press is in open revolt, predicting fearfully that the "House of Liberties" (as Mr Berlusconi's coalition is known) is on the verge of exploding into a "Bordello of Liberties".

Next Monday a judge in Milan will decide whether Mr Berlusconi and Mr Mills should be sent for trial on charges that Mr Berlusconi paid Mr Mills $350,000 (£187,000), a bribe to give favourable testimony in two separate trials for corruption that Mr Berlusconi faced in the 1990s.

Both deny the charges. Mr Berlusconi has repeatedly said he does not know Mr Mills - even though the British former barrister and tax expert began advising Mr Berlusconi and his colleagues on their financial affairs more than 25 years ago.

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