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Thursday, 21 February, 2002, 19:39 GMT
Italy set for business law clash
Silvio Berlusconi
Berlusconi has business and political interests
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By William Horsley
BBC European Affairs Correspondent
A heated argument over the Italian prime minister's business interests is coming to a head after the approval of a new law on conflict of interest by an Italian parliamentary committee.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is a multi-billionaire businessman, but he has refused to sell off his own business interests - which include all the main private TV channels as well as extensive publishing activities - while he is prime minister.

His government proposes that a commission of nominated politicians should monitor potential conflicts of interest and have the power to report them to parliament.

But the opposition claims the proposed law is too weak to be effective.

On Thursday it was approved by the constitutional committee of the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of parliament.

It will be debated by the whole house next week.

Opposition anger

The opposition has condemned the draft law, claiming that the proposed commission would be biased in favour of Mr Berlusconi, that it has too narrow a focus and that it lacks any real penalties.

In 1994 Silvio Berlusconi's first government was brought down amid arguments about conflicts of interest and criminal investigations into his business dealings.

Since he regained power last year Mr Berlusconi has had to fight more corruption charges in the courts.

He said he would introduce new rules to settle the conflict of interest argument within 100 days. That has not happened.

And in the past few months he has blocked plans for a common European arrest warrant, which could have meant Spain, for instance, could extradite him for the charges he faces.

See also:

21 Feb 02 | Europe
Italy's new superboss
15 Feb 02 | Europe
Storm gathers around Italian TV
15 Aug 01 | Business
Berlusconi deadline nears
18 Jun 01 | Europe
Berlusconi replies to critics
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