Berlusconi accused of bugging talks

  • @peterpopham

The Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was at the receiving end of an unusual allegation yesterday when a senior Italian official claimed the Italian delegation had been secretly bugging the deliberations at the G8 summit – which protocol dictates are kept firmly off the record – to help Mr Berlusconi keep up.

The Financial Times reported on its website that the official, who wished to remain anonymous, had reported that aides to the Italian team had been listening to the proceedings through headphones in rooms near the conference rooms.

The confidentiality of the discussions is upheld each year. The only recent breach to have come to the media's attention occurred when the then US president, George Bush, greeted the then British prime minister with the immortal words: "Yo Blair, how you doing?" at the St Petersburg G8 summit in July 2006.

But a document referring to the recording suggested the Italians were unaware that they were committing a faux pas, believing only that they were introducing a novelty which should be kept quiet so that others did not request a listening service too. "Pay attention not to tell the other delegations about our facility," warned the note, "otherwise they will all want it, and that is not possible".

The point of the recordings, it was suggested, was to enable the Italian summit sherpas to help Mr Berlusconi, who is the chairman of the plenary events, keep up to speed. But some Italian officials objected to the plan, claiming that it was tantamount to spying.

The allegations were rejected by Mr Berlusconi's spokesman, Marco Ventura: "What they say remains in the room. There is no channel of communication between the leaders and the outside, except for the digital pens."

Traditionally, the pens are the only form of communication permitted between the conference room and the aides outside.

Mr Ventura continued: "There will not be any sort of secret channel between the president of the G8 [Mr Berlusconi] different from others."