London: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi vowed in July to leave Italy, which he described as a “shitty country” that “sickened” him, in a telephone conversation that was secretly recorded by police investigating claims he was being blackmailed about his sex life.
At dawn on Thursday, police swooped on a flat near Via Veneto – one of Rome’s most expensive streets – to arrest Giampaolo Tarantini, a central figure in a scandal that threatened to bring down Berlusconi two years ago.
Tarantini’s wife, Angela Devenuto, was also taken into custody and a search launched for a third person.
The arrest warrant shows that the three are accused of extorting at least GBP 440,000 “as well as other benefits of economic significance”.
Berlusconi has admitted paying the couple, but said he did so voluntarily.
Two years ago, Tarantini, a businessman from Bari in southern Italy, said he supplied 30 women for parties at the Prime Minister’s Roman palazzo. He told police at least six women spent the night there.
According to the judicial arrest warrant issued on Thursday, a third person – Valter Lavitola, the editor of a small newspaper – maintained direct contact with Berlusconi and received the cash in monthly instalments from the Prime Minister’s personal secretary.
It was in a phone conversation with Lavitola late on July 13 that Berlusconi erupted in anger.
“They can say about me that I screw. It’s the only thing they can say about me. Is that clear?” the Guardian quoted the Prime Minister as saying to the man allegedly blackmailing him.
“They can put listening devices where they like. They can tap my telephone calls. I don’t give a f***. I … In a few months, I’m getting out to mind my own f*****g business, from somewhere else, and so I’m leaving this shitty country of which I’m sickened,” Berlusconi added.