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Page last updated at 12:19 GMT, Friday, 5 June 2009 13:19 UK

Berlusconi fury over naked photos

El Pais, Friday 5 June 2009
El Pais said the photos showed an uninhibited atmosphere at the villa

Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi has reacted angrily to the publication in Spain of photographs showing topless women and a naked man at his villa.

He has threatened to sue Spain's El Pais newspaper, calling the photos an invasion of privacy.

The photos - banned in Italy on privacy grounds - were taken from outside Mr Berlusconi's villa in Sardinia during a party for a Czech delegation.

He also faces a probe for using state aircraft to fly guests to Sardinia.

The prime minister is said to have used Italian aircraft to ferry guests to and from Villa Certosa, "almost every weekend" between the summer of 2007 and January of this year, El Pais reports.

Mr Berlusconi is being investigated for misuse of public funds, and confirmed on Thursday that he had been formally placed under investigation by prosecutors.

But he said the probe would be "swiftly shelved", insisting he was allowed to transport "people he needs" for security reasons.

Mystery man

Under the headline "The pictures vetoed by Berlusconi", El Pais on Friday published five photos shot by photographer Antonello Zappadu from outside the gates of the Berlusconi villa.

In the first, the face of the Italian prime minister - recently embroiled in a public row over his friendship with an 18-year-old model - can be clearly seen. He is accompanied by several women, with the face of one of them pixelated by the photographer and the others obscured by an awning.

These are innocent photos, there's no scandal but this is a violation of privacy and a scandalous aggression
Silvio Berlusconi
Italian Prime Minister

El Pais said that, to protect their identities, Mr Zappadu had pixelated the faces of all those photographed - with the exception of Mr Berlusconi.

The second photograph shows two topless women, one standing and one lying on a sun lounger in the Sardinian sunshine. The woman standing is wearing nothing except a skimpy set of "thong" bikini briefs.

But the third picture is the most stark, showing a fully naked man leaning over the edge of a swimming pool.

El Pais said the pictures were examples of the approximately 300 which were blocked from publication in Italy at the weekend at Mr Berlusconi's request.

Some of the photos were reportedly taken during a party held at the villa for a visiting Czech delegation under the leadership of former Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek.

El Pais said it was unable to confirm whether the picture of the naked man it published was that of Mr Topolanek. Mr Berlusconi's lawyer has previously said such a photo existed.

Other photographs reportedly include scenes of parties attended by several young women, including the 18-year-old model Noemi Letizia.

'Nothing spicy'

Mr Berlusconi has been under pressure to explain his relationship with Ms Letizia since his wife, Veronica Lario, said last month she was divorcing him after he had attended her 18th birthday party and gave her an expensive necklace. He has denied having an affair with her.

Noemi Letizia
Ms Letizia was among the guests at Mr Berlusconi's last new year's party

Mr Berlusconi denounced the paparazzi on Friday for violating his privacy and "scandalous aggression", saying the photographs were entirely "innocent".

When asked by Italian state-run Rai radio why there had been several naked women at his villa, he replied: "Do you take a shower dressed?"

"These girls were bathing in a whirlpool bath inside a private home, and they were assaulted in a scandalous way.

"These are innocent photos, there's no scandal but this is a violation of privacy and a scandalous aggression.

The 72-year-old also repeated that there had been nothing "spicy" in his relations with Ms Letizia and that he would resign "the next minute" if proved otherwise.

His lawyer, Niccolo Ghedini, described the photographs as having "originated in a crime", adding: "Who buys them anywhere in the world is committing a crime, something which should have been clear to El Pais' journalists," he said.

'Petty'

According to reports, prosecutors in Rome also found several pictures taken at Sardinia's Olbia airport before and after the parties.

Silvio Berlusconi (3 June 2009)
Mr Berlusconi said the accusations were timed to coincide with the election

They allegedly showed Mr Berlusconi's favourite singer, Mariano Apicella, his assistant, and an unidentified woman getting off the prime minister's official plane in May last year.

Prosecutors were forced to open an investigation into Mr Berlusconi's use of public assets after a complaint was filed by a consumer association, Codacons.

"It means nothing. It will be shelved very soon," Berlusconi told a Milan television station via phone on Thursday.

"There is a rule, passed by the prime minister's office, that allows the prime minister, when he uses state planes for reasons of security, to take with him people he feels he needs at no cost," he said.

However, the newspaper La Stampa has said the regulation did not take effect until August, three months after the airport pictures.

Mr Berlusconi said he had entertained several heads of state and government - including Mr Topolanek - at his villa in Sardinia, and had "offered all that I receive from them, including shows with artistes".

"But this is not a burden on the [Italian] state," he added.

The prime minister called the accusations "petty" and suggested they had been timed to coincide with this week's European Parliament elections. Italians are set to vote on Saturday and Sunday.



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Profile: Silvio Berlusconi
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