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Berlusconi’s kids OK selling Mediaset

Goal to end conflict-of-interest accusations against PM

MILAN — Italo media magnate-turned-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi says his children have changed their long-held stance and given him the greenlight to sell Mediaset, Italy’s largest TV group.

The children want to sell the family-controlled TV group to put an end to the conflict-of-interest accusations Berlusconi has faced since his election in 2001, according to the prime minister.

“My children see with what passion I dedicate myself to the government and modernization of our country. They think that if I got rid of the TV (company) I would be less exposed to the attacks of my opponents,” Berlusconi told talkshow host Bruno Vespa, a close associate of the premier, for Vespa’s new book “History of Italy From Mussolini to Berlusconi.”

Excerpts from Berlusconi’s interview for Vespa’s book, to be published by Berlusconi’s Mondadori on Nov. 16, appeared in the Corriere della Sera daily paper Monday.

The premier referred to his children, but he meant his two elder offspring, Marina, 37, and Piersilvio, 35, who have prominent roles in Fininvest, the family holding that owns 50.9% of Mediaset.

Marina Berlusconi is Fininvest VP and prexy of the publishing house Mondadori, also controlled by Fininvest. Piersilvio is Mediaset VP.

Both are under investigation by Milan magistrates for alleged money-laundering related to the acquisition of films rights.

Berlusconi’s three younger children would not oppose the sale, according to Corriere della Sera. Barbara, 22, and a member of Fininvest board since last year, recently said in an interview with Vanity Fair that she would advise her father to sell.

The “scoop” stirred skepticism in Italy, after the premier strongly denied press reports of a Mediaset sale three weeks ago, calling it “all science fiction.” Announcement could be a tactical move by Berlusconi, trying to silence accusations of a conflict of interest between his media empire and his political career in a difficult phase for his right-wing coalition.

Berlusconi is facing divisions in his government, and his economic and social policy is meeting growing opposition, as the poor results achieved by his coalition in summer’s European Parliamentary elections showed.

Reducing Fininvest’s stake in Mediaset would give the family cash to invest in other assets like Mondadori, which Marina Berlusconi wants to expand abroad, and something new, like Telecom Italia.

Mediaset shares closed virtually unchanged Monday, as Italy’s usually vociferous politicians remained silent on Berlusconi’s revelation.

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