June 5, 2009 / 8:48 AM / 10 years ago

Berlusconi says topless photos "invasion of privacy"

ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Friday photos in a Spanish newspaper of topless women sunbathing at his seaside villa were an invasion of privacy and his lawyer said he would take legal action.

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi attends the taping of the television program Porta a Porta ("Door to door" in Italian) in Rome May 5, 2009. REUTERS/Remo Casilli

Berlusconi’s private life, including an investigation into his use of state planes to ferry guests to his luxury villa on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, has become an explosive issue ahead of European elections.

In an article titled “The pictures vetoed by Berlusconi,” Spain’s El Pais published five photos, including two showing the premier walking within the villa grounds accompanied by women whose faces are blurred, and one of women sunbathing topless.

Berlusconi’s lawyer, Niccolo Ghedini, said he was filing a legal complaint against the newspaper.

“These pictures ... were seized in Italy because it was reckoned that they were derived from illegal behavior,” Ghedini said in a statement. “Anybody buying them anywhere in the world commits a crime.”

El Pais wrote in an editorial: “The publication of the photos of his private parties is not an attempt to judge his morality as a citizen, but to demonstrate that as prime minister he is trying to transform the democratic arena into a simple extension of his friendships and entertainments.

“An Italy sliding down the slope which Berlusconi is dragging it down is not only a source of concern for Italians, but for all Europeans.”

Another photo in the newspaper, which last week attacked Berlusconi as bent on using his power to give himself legal immunity, shows a naked man by the poolside.

“Do you take a shower in a jacket and tie?” Berlusconi asked a radio interviewer when quizzed about the photos. “These are people bathing in a jacuzzi inside a private house meant for guests.”

The photos were taken by photographer Antonello Zappadu, whose pictures an Italian prosecutor has allowed Berlusconi to seize on privacy grounds because they were taken without permission from outside the villa using a powerful lens.

“These are innocent photos, there’s no scandal but this is a violation of privacy and a scandalous aggression,” Berlusconi told local radio, lamenting that this was unacceptable when the premier hosted a Czech delegation at his villa.

A spokeswoman for the newspaper’s parent company Prisa said: “We have published a matter of public interest in the correct way. We have an obligation to inform the public and don’t see any problem.”

Berlusconi is mired in a scandal over his friendship with the 18-year-old aspiring model Noemi Letizia, which prompted his wife to ask for a divorce and stirred an outcry from the opposition.

The 72-year-old conservative leader, whose popularity has weathered Italy’s worst post-war economic crisis, denies a sexual relationship with Letizia and says it is a private matter.

After a string of critical articles in Britain’s The Times, Financial Times, Independent, France’s Le Figaro and Germany’s Die Welt, he has accused foreign newspapers of waging a campaign against him at the instigation of the left-wing press in Italy.

(For a related Reuters blog: here)

additional reporting by Elisabeth O'Leary; writing by Deepa Babington and Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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