Only days after conceding defeat, Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is facing a new showdown with his enemies, but this time the scandal is about his property, not his politics.
On Saturday the 69-year-old billionaire made an extraordinary attack on those he said were out to get him. He announced his intention personally to confront officials due to inspect his extravagant home in Sardinia tomorrow to determine if he has breached environmental laws by building an artificial hill overlooking the sea.
Calling it a furore stirred up for political reasons, Berlusconi said that his enemies on the left were renewing their attacks on him and told supporters: "I am being persecuted, it's as simple as that."
Controversy first erupted last week when the authorities in Sardinia, where Berlusconi has a luxury seaside estate called Villa Certosa, announced that they wanted to inspect the property's latest development. The regional authority said that it wanted to check that the construction of the 9.1m hill had not altered the topography of the protected coast. The inspection follows a report in the Sardinian press on alleged building abuses at the estate.
Berlusconi's lawyer, Niccolo Ghedini, said: "Once again we have an attempt to attack Prime Minister Berlusconi with specious, groundless arguments."
Berlusconi, who remains in a caretaker position until his opponent, Romano Prodi, is given a mandate to form the next government, also went on the attack.
"I've done a lot of work there," he lamented to supporters at a meeting in Naples at the weekend. "I've spent a lot of money, created a wonderful place, but the vindictive inspectors of the left are coming to check, just in case the grass has been imported illegally."
Sardinia's head of town planning, Gian Valerio Sanna, rebutted the allegations and has said its representatives would be happy to meet Berlusconi.
"The regional government does not have a preconceived attitude and this is not a pretext to attack [Berlusconi]," he said. "This is an act we are duty bound to carry out when one finds out about an episode of this type."
The 27-room Villa Certosa has artificial waterfalls and several swimming pools and is Berlus-coni's favorite home. He loves to show visitors around the 40.5-hectare grounds which are planted with 800 types of hibiscus, 164 types of palm trees and 500 types of cacti.