Mafia allegation prompts Berlusconi libel writ

By Hilary Clarke in Rome
 
Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi is suing The
Economist’s Italian correspondent, David Lane, over a book Lane wrote
tracking the billionaire prime minister’s rise to power.

Preliminary hearings took place last week in the case against
Lane, 62, and Laterza, the Italian publishers of his book, Berlusconi’s
Shadow.

Lane is one of only two journalists to have been
personally sued by Berlusconi and the only foreign writer, despite a
number of critical books that have been written about the media mogul.

The
other journalist to have been personally sued, twice, is the Italian
investigative writer Marco Tremaglia, who has published extensively on
Berlusconi’s alleged links to the Sicilian mafia.

Two other libel
cases are also ongoing against The Economist, which has been a thorn in
Berlusconi’s side since it published a long article critical of him
just before he was elected in 2001.

He has accused it of organising a “communist” conspiracy against him.

Lane is The Economist’s business and finance correspondent in Italy, where he has lived for 34 years.

Berlusconi’s
Shadow, published in the UK by Penguin, tracks Berlusconi’s rise to
power and the legal problems that have dogged him since he began his
career in politics in the early 1990s.

Lane’s defence lawyer,
Virginia Ripa di Meana, said: “Berlusconi doesn’t like the fact that
Lane’s book included a chapter on the Mafia and then went on to talk
about him. He is also sensitive to comparisons in the book made between
him and Mussolini.”

The prime minister is often the subject of
criticism in the foreign and national press, despite owning much of it
in Italy, so it is unknown why he has targeted The Economist, Lane and
Tremaglia for legal action.

“It is quite a selection because everyone in Italy writes against Berlusconi,”

said Ripa di Meana.

It was also rare for an Italian prime minister to sue, she added, with most politicians dropping any libel suits once elected.

Berlusconi
owns three major commercial TV channels in Italy, and holds political
influence at the board of the stateowned TV broadcaster, RAI. He also
owns a newspaper, Il Giornale, and Italy’s biggest publishing group,
Mondadori.

Despite the legal case, Lane’s book was on sale at one of the Mondadori bookshops in the centre of Rome at the weekend.

The
case against Lane opened on 29 November and has been adjourned until
April while the judge studies the evidence. Five boxes of documents
were delivered by Lane’s lawyer to the court.

Italy has a notoriously slow legal process and the case could take several years to conclude.

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