Italy summons ambassador after reports US spied on Berlusconi


Intelligence services said to have tapped phones of ex-prime minister and his aides

Italy’s foreign ministry has summoned the US ambassador after media reports that American intelligence services tapped the telephones of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and his aides in 2011.

Newspaper La Repubblica reported the US National Security Agency (NSA) spied on the billionaire, four-time prime minister five years ago when his government was under pressure at the height of the euro zone debt crisis.

La Repubblica said whistleblowing site WikiLeaks showed the 79-year-old media tycoon and head of Italy’s main centre-right party had been in the NSA’s crosshairs between 2008 and 2011.

Ambassador John Phillips met the director general of the foreign ministry, Michele Valensise, in the afternoon. Afterwards the ministry issued a statement saying that Italy had called for “specific clarifications about what emerged in relation to the events of 2011”.

Mr Phillips “assured us that he will immediately refer the question to his superiors,” the ministry said. During the meeting, Mr Phillips also pointed out that President Barack Obama banned eavesdropping on the leaders of close friends and allies of the United States in 2014, the statement said.

Frayed relations

Mr Obama made that decision in part to smooth over frayed relations between the US and Germany after reports surfaced in 2013 that the NSA had monitored the cellphone of Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel.

Though Mr Berlusconi’s influence has waned since he left government, he is still a prominent figure and leads Forza Italia, the second-largest party on the fragmented right wing of Italian politics.

Jewels in the crown of his business empire include TV company Mediaset and a majority stake in football team AC Milan.

– (Reuters)


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