Draft bars top execs from public office, but not owners

MILAN — Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing majority in Parliament’s lower house passed a conflict-of-interest bill tailor-made for the Italian premier-cum-media tycoon.

The draft, which still requires the approval of the upper house, includes an article barring top company executives — but not company owners — from public office. It does allow for a still-to-be-created watchdog org but only gives it teeth of a political nature.

If the Senate passes the bill in its current version, Berlusconi will not be forced to give up any of the assets in his huge media and financial empire Fininvest, which include Italy’s largest TV broadcaster Mediaset, leading film company Medusa, leading publishing house Mondadori and insurance company Mediolanum.

Only concession: He may have to step down as president of the soccer club AC Milan, which he bought in 1986.

As premier, Berlusconi also controls Mediaset’s rival, pubcaster RAI, which has a newly appointed board close to the Berlusconi coalition of parties.

One of the 20 richest men in the world thanks to his media empire, Berlusconi called the legislation “the best possible.”

Opposition walkout

The entire opposition bloc walked out of the Parliament’s 630-seat lower house Thursday, just before the final vote, to protest against the “fraud” committed by Berlusconi and his allies.

The opposition politicians marched in the streets, waving banners saying “shame” and wearing fake Pinocchio noses, which in Italy is the symbol for lying.

“This is not a law but a hoax which makes a fool of everybody because it does not solve Berlusconi’s conflict of interest but rather legalizes it,” Piero Fassino, head of the center-left opposition coalition, said Friday.

The opposition is planning to hold a referendum in 2003 against what they call “this farcical law.”

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