Opposition claims bill tailor-made for Berlusconi

MILAN –Italy’s Senate approved a conflict-of-interest law Thursday, probably the most controversial issue in the country after billionaire media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi was appointed premier last year while retaining ownership of all his media businesses.

Conservatives claim the law will end the media baron’s conflict of interest while trying to respect the right to property.

But the center-left opposition, whose angry protests forced the Speaker of the Senate to temporarily suspend debate, says it is toothless and tailor-made for the premier. Berlusconi’s personal empire is worth over $7 billion, including Italy’s leading broadcaster Mediaset.

According to the bill approved on Thursday, two existing authorities will monitor conflict of interests involving public officials who can own a company but not run it.

According to the opposition, this is the main reason why the bill is toothless as Berlusconi owns several companies, including many politically sensitive ones in the media sector, but does not run them.

Moreover, the bill leaves it to the legislature — where Berlusconi’s ruling coalition has a comfortable majority in both houses — to decide any punishment.

“The bill does not affirm a general principle, it just protects a personal interest,” Gavino Angius, the Senate whip for the Democrats of the Left, said. “Its approval is one of the darkest pages of the Italian Republic.”

The legislation must go back to the Chamber of Deputies, parliament’s Lower House, for final approval on a date still to be set. But the Chamber is expected to pass it without amendments.

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