Peter Popham: Berlusconi family takes on mafia critic

Milan Notebook: Saviano cannot walk down the street without bodyguards

Monday 19 April 2010 00:00 BST

Like most of Silvio Berlusconi's celebrated broadsides, this one came out of nowhere. He was boasting to the press on Friday about how his government was winning the war against the mafia, and hoped to close down organised crime altogether by the end of his term in office. Then he added that actually, it wasn't as big a problem as it appeared, the Italian mafia being only "sixth in the world". It only seemed so formidable because of the "promotional support" it had been getting, "which has become a very negative element in the way our country is judged".

To what might Berlusconi be alluding? Mafia dramas on television, he explained, and "all the literature about it, Gomorrah and the rest".

Gomorrah is Roberto Saviano's best-seller about the Camorra, the Naples mafia, which became a successful film. Saviano really didn't need this: he has already been sentenced to death by the Camorra and cannot walk down the street without bodyguards.

He shot back that the silence demanded by the Prime Minister was exactly what the Camorra wanted. "Words always represent an affront because they tell everybody about behaviour that [the gangs] want to keep to themselves," he argued. "The government only started taking the fight against the Camorra seriously when light was thrown on their organisation, which was previously only known about by those whom they blackmailed."

Yesterday the row intensified when Berlusconi's daughter Marina wrote an open letter to Saviano in which she said she agreed fully with her Dad, and described Saviano as a "one-way street publicist".

If Saviano felt trapped before, Ms Berlusconi's intervention will not have made him feel any better – she is president of Mondadori, his Milan-based publisher. "The Mondadori Group has guaranteed to Saviano and all its other authors the maximum freedom of expression," she purred in silken tones. Gulp.

Mob rule damages Italy

Mr Berlusconi rarely turns his attention to the mafia, even when supergrasses stand up in court to claim that his entire fortune was founded on the Mob's laundered treasure. So what lured him out of his shell this time? He was apparently distancing himself from one of his oldest friends, Marcello dell'Utri. Six years ago the Sicilian senator and co-founder of Forza Italia was sentenced to nine years' jail for mafia crimes. On Friday at the appeal Palermo's public prosecutor said the politician's crimes warranted 11 years. Dell'Utri, who was not in court, said there "was not a trace of evidence" against him.

Perhaps the sagest comment came from Domenico Procacci, producer of the Gomorrah film. "What really damages Italy's image," he said, "is the perception that we have mafiosi sitting in parliament but pretend to know nothing about it."

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