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Berlusconi shrugs off the latest inquiry

ITALIAN Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said an investigation for possible abuse of office over a scandal involving the use of state aircraft "means nothing" and would be shelved.

Late on Wednesday, news agency ANSA had reported judicial sources saying Rome prosecutors were obliged to open the investigation following a complaint from the Codacons consumer association but that the case could be dismissed quickly.

"It means nothing. It will be shelved very soon," Berlusconi told a local TV station via phone. "There is a rule, passed by the prime minister's office, that allows the prime minister, when he uses state planes for reasons of security, to take with him people he feels he needs at no cost."

Prosecutors had already opened an investigation into the misuse of state planes after media reports that guests at Berlusconi's villa arrived on military aircraft, but the initial probe was not targeted at any individual.

The 72-year-old conservative leader is already mired in a scandal over his relationship with 18-year-old aspiring model Noemi Letizia, which prompted his wife to ask for a divorce and stirred an outcry from the opposition.


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