Berlusconi: I've got the sun in my pocket

Alcuni brani dall'intervista al Sunday Times magazine, 26.01.2014

Silvio Berlusconi

He thanks me for visiting him, offers an early- evening aperitivo and agrees heartily when I refuse. He is not simply a well- rehearsed affable host, but instinctively keen to charm and makes ever effort to make me feel comfortable. I ask after his health. “I’m well. l’ve still got the sun in my pocket”, he replies, an expression he famously used to drum into the sales teams of his business empire. “I’m an incurable optimist," Berlusconi smiles again. At 5ft 4in, he is sharp, alert, but paunchy and slightly breathless after coming down the stairs. He has a full head of hair , the hair thinner on top of his scalp, after a transplant a decade ago.

During our meeting he repeatedly denies the charges and reminds me he is appealing the verdicts. He waves me to a chair at an oval table in a wood panelled dining room where, he says, he and his party apparatchiks “do all the thinking”. He is accompanied by a long- time political aide and his chief press officer. For the next 90 minutes, Berlusconi fidgets constantly      gesticulating, doodling on a notepad, often closing his eyes as he speaks. For all the talk of the sun in his pocket, he seems weary. His mood is in turn nostalgic, sad, bitter, angry, bombastic and defiant. (…)

Berlusconi tells me, that the accusations about his private life have caused “so much pain, so many wounds, for me and for my family”. He has in recent months suffered from depression and spent many nights sitting in front of the TV. When l ask him what really went on at his villa, he looks briefly surprised at the question, then launches into a list of his political achievements. None of his undoing, he believes, is about sex or tax fraud, it is all about payback for his political triumphs. He is at his angriest when denouncing prosecutors and judges, whom he describes as politically motivated left wingers.
“I represented, and still represent, the only obstacle to the left’s definitive conquest of power,” he insists. “I’m paying a personal price tor that, with a political and judicial vendetta that has been unleashed against me, through 150 trials in the last 20 years.”
Berlusconi says that his card was marked from the moment he decided to go into politics. In 1994 his first government collapsed when a coalition ally abandoned him following news of a corruption investigation; he was later cleared of the allegations. After returning to power for a fourth time in 2008, he says, he cut taxes and cleared Naples of household rubbish, performing a “miracle”. (…)

In his last term in office, he claims to have saved the airline Alitalia from French hands, and built new homes for 30,000 victims of an earthquake at L’Aquila in central Italy. “Alas, my popularity went up to 75.3% in late 2009. The leftist judiciary was hugely scared, and the perfect storm was launched,” he says. And then he talks in detail of the allegations that have dogged his career in recent years. It was, he says, his friend Emilio Fede, a former newsreader on one of his TV channels, who had the idea of having a table of beautiful girls, as Berlusconi puts it. (Fede is appealing against a seven-year sentence for procuring young women for prostitution for Berlusconi’s parties.) “I worked all the time, in the evening, on Saturday, on Sunday, it was crazy. It’s clear that I’ve worked so hard in a room surrounded by people from Rome, the politicians.” Fede’s idea suited him. “I liked tossing songs for a bit, to talk about soccer, in a very pleasant manner”(…)

Berlusconi’s tone suddenly changes and emotion wells up in his voice . “They did things to these girls which…I don’t know I can put it…These girls were named everywhere, look them up, and they come out as the prosecutor said, as pros-ti-tutes”, slowly articulating each syllable “These girls have had their lives de-vas-ta-ted, de-vas-ta-ted,” he continues. “They can’t find a proper boyfriend, a proper  job, they can’t find someone who will rent them a flat, and they are desperate.”

In the “bunga” case the police staged “ a roundup”, barging into the homes of 32 women. He claims the women, watched by a female officer, were made to undress in the bathroom as their clothes, bags, shoes and knickers – he stresses the last word- were laid out and photographed. “All their diaries, computers and mobile phones were taken away. Then they were taken to police headquarters and kept there with no food until 9pm,” he says  (...)

“Luckily, I’ve never in my life had to pay a woman to have sex,” he insists. He grins broadly and says that unfortunately he had to marry some, which cost him a lot.  Last summer, a court ruled that Berlusconi must pay his estranged wife Veronica Lario a monthy sum of £1.2m. (When she filed for divorce in 2009, Lario branded him “a dragon to whom young virgins offer themselves”.) (...)

Berlusconi insists that he cannot explain how and underage girl - Ruby the Heart Stealer - had been among his guests at dinner one evening. “We didn’t manage to find out how, because no one said they’d brought her along.” He does say, however, that her description of her background made many of his guests feel sorry for her. She said she was Egyptian and that her mother was related to Hosni Mubarak, the former Egyptian president. Her parents had had thrown her because she had embraced the Catholic faith and her father had thrown boiling oil on her. “She showed us deep injuries,” Berlusconi says, bowing his head and gesturing as if he were parting his hair. Her father has denied treating her in this way.

“She said she was 24, she looked her age and she had a way of speaking that meant no one would have thought she was 17 and a few months. She made friends with some people and so, every so often, I saw her appear here. I never invited her”, Berlusconi says. (…)

In 1991, after the collapse of the Eastern bloc, the Italian party shifted towards the centre, renaming itself the Democratic Party of the Left. But Berlusconi was convinced it remained a treath. “All the opinion polls showed I was the only one who could save Italy from this danger,” he says. “I didn’t sleep for nights” (…)

Berlusconi is determined to return to front-line Italian politics, but current polls credit the centre –right bloc he leads with 33,7% of the vote, behind the centre left of “Italy’s Tony Blair”, the 38-year-old Matteo Renzi, at 38,8%. Asked whether he would like to be prime minister for a fifth time – judges permitting – he replies: “We can’t leave the left an empty field”. More than that, it’s a question of duty. “If I take into account the incredible judicial and media siege which has turned me into a continuous target; and, above all, if I compare myself to the other players on the (Italian) stage today, then I have the duty to stay in the ring.”  

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