Silvio Berlusconi under fire after choosing ex-dancer Nicole Minetti as poll candidate
The Prime Minister was criticised last year for picking “showgirls” in the European elections but that has not deterred him from selecting Nicole Minetti, who qualified as an oral hygienist in November, to run for the colours of the People of Liberty (PdL) party in Lombardy.
Ms Minetti met Mr Berlusconi while he was being treated in hospital after a mentally disturbed man hurled a souvenir at him in December, gashing his cheek and lips and damaging his teeth. In her previous career she was a dancer on variety shows including Colorado Café, which was broadcast by one of Mr Berlusconi’s commercial television channels.
The PdL list in Lombardy also features Francesco Magnano, a surveyor employed by Mr Berlusconi, and Giorgio Puricelli, the physiotherapist at AC Milan football club, owned by the Prime Minister.
Mr Berlusconi, 73, whose ratings are falling as his centre-right Government is engulfed in a new wave of bribery and sleaze allegations, denied reports this week that he was planning to field “showgirls” with little or no experience in politics. Some of his chosen candidates in the European and local elections last year were described by Veronica Lario, his wife, as “shameless trash”. She subsequently filed for divorce.
Presenting a “pink list” of women candidates for the positions of president of Lazio, Tuscany, Umbria and Emilia Romagna, Mr Berlusconi insisted that they had been chosen for their ability, adding that men were “inferior to women”.
However, Anna Finocchiaro, leader in the Senate of the opposition Democratic Party, said that the Prime Minister “chooses female candidates more for their beauty than their experience”. Chiara Volpato, the Milan sociologist who drew up a petition last summer urging the wives of world leaders to shun the G8 summit in L’Aquila because of Mr Berlusconi’s “profound sexism”, condemned a remark by Mr Berlusconi this week that he opposed trafficking of illegal immigrants from Albania into Italy — “apart from beautiful girls”.
Yesterday the Prime Minister, who is on trial for alleged tax fraud and bribery, said that no one could be a candidate next month who was “under investigation or on trial” — though this would be decided on a “case-by-case” basis. He said that he would make few election appearances because of the danger of attacks and vowed to issue a decree banning the “barbarous” use of telephone taps in criminal investigations.
Newspapers have published extracts from intercepted telephone calls appearing to suggest that Guido Bertolaso, Mr Berlusconi’s right-hand man as head of the Civil Protection Agency, was offered bribes. They were said to include sexual services by masseuses at a heath spa, paid for by businessmen bidding to win building contracts at the G8 summit sites.
Mr Bertolaso has denied all wrongdoing, saying he received physiotherapy for a bad back and
nothing more. Mr Berlusconi yesterday claimed that the G8 corruption investigation, which has led to the arrest of a businessman and three public works officials, was part of a plot to force him out “politically and physically”. He said that he was being lynched and would not step down.
The scandal, however, is denting Mr Berlusconi’s hopes of victory in the regional elections, with polls giving the centre-left the edge in seven of the thirteen regions at stake.
Mr Berlusconi’s personal rating rose from 48 per cent to 56 per cent after the Milan attack but later dropped back and has now fallen to 46 per cent. Judge Tullio Lazzaro, thet head of the national Court of Audits, said in his annual report this week that cases of corruption in Italy had increased by 229 per cent last year, adding that corruption was a “cancer in the Italian body”.