EXCLUSIVE: Berlusconi sues local, foreign media for libel

ROME Fri Aug 28, 2009 11:38am EDT

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi looks on during a meeting in Rome, September 11, 2008. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi looks on during a meeting in Rome, September 11, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Tony Gentile

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ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is launching legal actions against media in Italy and abroad, including Britain, France and Spain, for libel in their coverage of his private life, his lawyer said on Friday.

His lawyer Niccolo Ghedini told Reuters that he and his colleagues abroad had already filed lawsuits against newspapers in Italy, France and Spain and had instructed lawyers in Britain to study possible cases of libel there.

"We have instructed our colleagues to evaluate, according to the laws in their countries, the most serious cases of real, true defamation," Ghedini said in a telephone interview.

He said lawyers acting for Berlusconi had sued the French weekly Nouvel Observateur for a story headlined "Sex, Power and Lies" and Spain's El Pais for publishing photos of guests at the billionaire premier's Sardinian villa cavorting naked.

In Italy they have sued La Repubblica, a tireless critic of the conservative leader, for repeating the Nouvel Observateur story and for defaming Berlusconi by repeating daily its "10 Questions" about his private life and political aspirations.

Ghedini declined to list which other publications could face lawsuits, especially in Britain where papers have taken a special interest in the scandals over Berlusconi's relationship with a teenage girl, prostitutes and divorce from his second wife.

Berlusconi, owner of Italy's largest private broadcaster Mediaset, has accused his television competitor Rupert Murdoch of mounting a personal attack on him via the London newspaper The Times, owned by Murdoch's News Corp.

Ghedini said British papers "have indeed been aggressive, but I have not looked at this article by article, I have left that to my colleagues. I have enough to do here in Italy."

"INTOLERABLE"

The lawyer said the 72-year-old Italian leader, who has been elected prime minister three times and still enjoys high ratings in polls despite a deep recession and all the scandals, "expects to come in for harsh criticism like any other politician."

But he said La Repubblica had an "intolerable" campaign against the premier "which brings Italy into discredit, because all foreign papers repeat these offenses as if they were true."

"If you say to someone 'You are sick and have a sexual addiction' and ask how they intend to get cured, you are taking it for granted that this person is ill," said the lawyer, giving an example of one of the allegations made against Berlusconi.

His estranged wife, Veronica Lario, said earlier this year that she wanted a divorce because of, among other things, his relationships with young women.

Berlusconi denies anything "spicy" in his relationship with Naples teenager Noemi Letizia which angered his wife and says he did not know that an escort who slept at his Rome apartment, and secretly recorded conversations with him, was a prostitute.

These episodes have earned him reprimands from the powerful Roman Catholic church and hopes of a rapprochement were dashed when his presence at a ceremony for repentance was called off on Friday, as was a dinner with Pope Benedict's deputy.

Berlusconi's family newspaper Il Giornale fueled the spat by digging up a sex scandal involving the editor of a Catholic paper which has criticized Berlusconi for his lifestyle.

The head of Italy's main opposition Democratic Party, Dario Franceschini, called Berlusconi's attacks on his critics in the media "a sign of fear and weakness."

(Writing by Stephen Brown; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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