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Italy's Berlusconi says was forced from office by EU 'plot'

ROME (Reuters) - Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi repeated accusations on Wednesday that he was forced out of office at the height of the euro zone crisis in 2011 as the result of a “plot” by European Union officials.

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi looks on as he arrives at the Sacred Family Foundation, where he will serve part of his one-year tax fraud sentence by doing community service with the elderly, in Cesano Boscone, a small town on the outskirts of Milan May 9, 2014. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Berlusconi’s comments followed the publication in Italy of extracts from a new book by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner which suggested that EU officials had approached the U.S. government with a project to force Berlusconi to resign.

“They wanted us to refuse to back IMF loans to Italy as long as he refused to go,” Geithner’s book “Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises,” was quoted as saying by daily La Stampa.

Geithner said the United States rejected the approach, saying “We can’t have his blood on our hands”.

Berlusconi, currently serving a community service order after being convicted of tax fraud last year, said the book showed there had been a “clear violation of democratic rules and an attack on the sovereignty of our country”.

“The plot is an extremely serious piece of news which confirms what I’ve been saying for some time,” he told Rai state television in an interview.

The 77-year-old billionaire media tycoon and leader of Italy’s main center-right party has frequently accused European authorities and head of state, President Giorgio Napolitano of mounting a “coup” to remove him from office in 2011.

Among other sources, he has cited a book published this year and based on interviews with his successor Mario Monti and others that said Monti was sounded out as a potential replacement premier months before Berlusconi’s government fell.

Napolitano has dismissed suggestions of a plot to replace Berlusconi as “smoke”.

Berlusconi has stepped up his attacks on Brussels and euro zone policy makers during the campaign for European parliamentary elections, encouraged by opinion polls which show rising dissatisfaction with the EU among many Italians.

With less than two weeks before the election on May 25, his Forza Italia party is in third place in opinion polls with about 20 percent, behind Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s center-left Democratic Party on around 34 percent and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement on about 25.

Berlusconi resigned in November 2011 after months of tension on financial markets caused fears that investors could refuse to buy Italian bonds, sending the euro zone’s third-largest economy into default and breaking the single currency apart.

On Wednesday he repeated accusations that Napolitano was in contact with Monti, the former European Commissioner appointed to lead the technocrat government that succeeded Berlusconi, well before the final crisis.

Monti’s government imposed a series of austerity measures aimed at restoring market confidence but failed to halt a steep rise in Italy’s public debt or restore growth and ended its term deeply unpopular with ordinary voters.

Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Catherine Evans