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Berlusconi escort tape may spark antiquities probe

PRIME Minister Silvio Berlusconi's private conversations with an escort, which have riveted Italians all week, may wind up getting him into trouble with Italy's archaeological authorities.

In one of the transcripts of his purported conversations with Patrizia D'Addario posted on an Italian website, Berlusconi boasts to her about his sprawling villa in Sardinia -- complete with an ice cream parlour and artificial lakes.

"Here we found 30 Phoenician tombs from (around) 300 BC," the voice is heard to say.

The latest audio clip was posted on the website of L'Espresso weekly yesterday and immediately raised the interest of the opposition and the archaeological community.

Under Italian law archaeological discoveries made on private property must be reported to authorities for inspection, cataloguing and possible excavation.

Italian newspapers reported today that cultural heritage authorities in Sardinia knew nothing about the sites, which archaeologists said would be a major find if confirmed.

The opposition Democratic Party demanded that either Berlusconi or Culture Minister Sandro Bondi address parliament on the purported find and why it was not reported.

"We want to know if they exist or not and if so, whether they have been reported," said opposition parliamentarian Andrea Marcucci.

The national association of archaeologists said they did not know about the site but that if it existed it could reveal many aspects of early civilisations on the Mediterranean island.

The Phoenicians were a trading people with settlements or colonies in many parts of the Mediterranean. Their origins have been traced to about 2300 BC and had declined by the early part of the 1st century AD.


This week the website of weekly magazine L'Espresso has posted recordings of conversations between Berlusconi and D'Addario, 42, who says she and other women were paid to attend parties at Berlusconi's residence in Rome.

The 72-year old conservative prime minister and self-made billionaire, who often boasts of his sexual prowess, has not denied that D'Addario went to his home, but has said that he did not know she was an escort and that he has never paid for sex.

On Wednesday he said he acknowledged that he was "no saint" but vowed to govern until the end of his mandate in 2013.

L'Espresso entitled its latest cover "Sex and the Silvio" and said politicians were asking themselves "Can he still govern the country?"

Although Berlusconi has tried to make light of the controversy surrounding his private life, the possible political ramifications have been lurking in the background.

An opinion poll published on Tuesday showed his approval rating falling below 50 percent for the first time since he won a landslide election victory last year.

The poll showed that Berlusconi had lost four percentage points since May, when his wife filed for divorce, setting off a chain of revelalations about his private life.

In an interview on Repubblica Television, opposition leader Dario Franceschini said Berlusconi's weakened position was "an objective fact" and that he believed there was possibility that the government could collapse in the autumn.


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