Berlusconi hits back at paparazzo

Police seize photographer's computer

ROME — As Silvio Berlusconi comes under mounting media scrutiny for allegedly dallying with a teenage girl, Italy’s Carabinieri paramilitary police have confiscated the computer of an Italian news photographer who took hundreds of shots of a New Year’s party at the media mogul and Italo premier’s Sardinian villa, allegedly attended by dozens of teenage women.

Italian news reports on Monday said police seized the computer of Sardinian photographer Antonello Zappadu in the latest installment in the potentially explosive soap-opera-like saga involving the 72-year-old Berlusconi, who denies having an affair with 18-year-old aspiring TV starlet Naomi Letizia.

It comes after a Rome prosecutor on Saturday ordered the seizure of computer discs with photos taken in January with a powerful lens at Berlusconi’s palatial Villa Certosa on the Italian isle by the paparazzo and banned their publication.

Besides images of Letizia at the party, the pics also reportedly included dozens of young bikini-clad and topless girls who were allegedly paid thousands of euros to attend the lavish bash thrown by the man who owns Mediaset and runs the Italian government.

Berlusconi’s lawyers over the weekend obtained a ban on publication of the photos from a Rome court after Zappadu offered to sell them to news outlets, including Berlusconi’s Panorama news magazine, for a reported $2 million.

Berlusconi on Sunday in a press conference defended the judicial seizure of the pics as protection of his privacy.

“No one can accept that a photographer come outside your home and photograph you inside your home,” he complained.

The snowballing saga was prompted by Berlusconi’s wife, Veronica Lario, who last month released an angry media statement blasting Berlusconi’s presence at Letizia’s 18th birthday party in Naples and subsequently announced she was divorcing him.

Though unseen by the public, the Sardinian New Year party photos are considered potentially damaging for Berlusconi, who faces a vital electoral vote at upcoming European elections on June 6 and 7. Berlusconi is also scheduled for a state visit on June 15 with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington.

While the brewing Berlusconi scandal has not immediately impacted Mediaset, which just won Italy’s spring ratings sweep with a whopping 40% share of the key advertising audience, aged 15-64, across its three channels, his alleged hanky-panky could alienate Catholic viewers of Italy’s top commercial generalist broadcaster at a time when Mediaset is aggressively expanding into pay TV.

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