Taking on Berlusconi

Conflict-of-interest law not enough, say foes

MILAN — Politicos passed a law Tuesday that attempts to curb the conflict of interest between Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s political and business interests.

Under the controversial law top government officers cannot have “managerial roles in profit-oriented businesses” and must make “their interests public.” However, it does not forbid them from owning companies or force them to put their assets in blind trusts, as in the U.S.

The new legislation was strongly condemned by the opposition, as it does not force Berlusconi to relinquish any of his assets, which include broadcaster Mediaset, film company Medusa, publishing house Mondadori and the AC Milan soccer club.

The parliamentary vote came almost three years after the legislation was first unveiled. After his Forza Italia party and his right-wing allies won the national elections on May 17, 2001, the media tycoon-turned-politico said he would resolve the clash between his business and media empire and his political role “within 100 days from taking office.”

Under the law, a conflict of interest arises when the government adopts (or fails to adopt) a decision that has a direct effect on the businesses of one of the top government politicians.

Italy’s antitrust bodies will monitor potential conflicts of interest and decide on financial sanctions for politicians who abuse their offices.

The law was welcomed by the ruling parties, but the opposition called it a “gift” to Berlusconi.

“It has taken over 1,000 days to approve a useless law that protects rather than resolves the premier’s conflicts of interest,” said Stefano Passigli of the Democrats of the Left.

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