Silvio Berlusconi asked Italy’s secret services to bump off Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, so the then premier could end his increasingly embarrassing ties with the Libyan dictator, it was claimed today.
Mr Berlusconi’s unusual request to Italy's then spy chief Gianni De Gennaro, came in 2011, shortly after the start of the Nato-backed Libyan rebellion that saw Gaddafi ousted and eventually killed by one of his own countrymen.
Today’s claims come in the left-wing Italian daily, Il Fatto Quotidiano, which quotes unnamed but "well placed” diplomatic sources in its front-page story.
A spokesman for Mr Berlusconi, 76, who is currently battling sex, corruption and tax fraud charges, has dismissed the report as “totally false”.
The paper claims, however, that with Gaddafi’s star waning, the tycoon-premier decided it was time to switch sides, after years in which he had led Italy’s obsequious overtures to the eccentric North African despot in order to win big oil deals.
Only months before the alleged request to “take out” the Libyan leader, Mr Berlusconi was, on 23 December 2010 , referring to Gaddafi as “my friend” in a Prime Ministerial press conference.
But it is claimed that with Mr Berlusconi’s international standing already plummeting thanks to a succession of gaffs and scandals, he was keen to end his perceived closeness to Gaddafi, especially as the dictator’s grip on power appeared to be loosening.
A year earlier in June 2009, Gaddafi made his first visit to Italy – Libya’s former colonial power - at the invitation of the mogul premier. Roman authorities allowed him to pitch his Bedouin tent in the grounds of Rome’s 17th-century Villa Doria Pamphilj palace.
The visit followed a treaty in which Italy agreed to pay £4.5bn over 20 years as compensation for its colonisation of the North African country. But business ties were flourishing - hence the willingness of successive Italian governments to bend over backwards to accommodate the mercurial Gaddafi, who for decades was largely seen as a terrorist-sponsoring international pariah.
The claimed assassination request was, however, dismissed by Mr Berlusconi’s spokesman Paolo Bonaiuti as “totally false, incredible, absurd and inacceptable”. “How could you think that Mr Berlusconi could even dream of such a dreadful thing?” he said.