Sat, Aug 02, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Magazine wants Berlusconi's reply to series of charges

AP , LONDON

In an open letter to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Thursday, the Economist magazine challenged the Italian premier to answer questions about a series of corruption allegations against him.

The influential weekly has already questioned Berlusconi's fitness to lead the EU, whose rotating presidency Italy took over on July 1. Berlusconi is suing the magazine over its claim two years ago that he was "unfit to lead Italy."

The Economist now says it has put together "a substantial dossier concerning his alleged misdeeds, backed up by documentary evidence," and sent it to the prime minister, challenging him to respond.

The dossier and questions were published on Thursday on The Economist's Web site.

The prime minister had no immediate comment on the letter.

"The premier has other things to do than read The Economist," Paolo Bonaiuti, Berlusconi's spokesman said. "His lawyers will read it."

Berlusconi owns a media empire worth an estimated US$7.8 billion, which includes Italy's main private television broadcaster. Along with the state-run network's three channels, Berlusconi directly or indirectly controls about 90 percent of the television market in the country.

He has faced corruption charges, including an accusation of bribing a judge to sway the outcome of a business deal.

In June, Berlusconi's forces in parliament pushed through a new immunity law that will exempt the premier and four other top officeholders from prosecution while in office, meaning Berlusconi's trial will be suspended for the rest of his term.

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