Berlusconi blames politicised judiciary for list exclusions
Candidates now beyond criticism, says ex-premier22 January, 14:40
''We had to ask our friends and colleagues to withdraw from electoral lists because they had been attacked by politicised prosecutors and this was reported by the media, potentially reducing consensus,'' Berlusconi told a news programme broadcast by his own television network Mediaset.
His comments came the day after it was announced that the Camorra-linked former industry undersecretary Nicola Cosentino would not be a candidate for his People of Freedom (PdL) party in the February 24 and 25 general elections.
Cosentino, a PdL heavyweight in the southern Campania region, has been indicted for allegedly helping the powerful Casalesi clan invest in a shopping mall near Caserta. Prosecutors allege he was the ''national reference point'' of the Casalesi, who come from his home town of Casal di Principe and were exposed in Roberto Saviano's 2006 bestseller Gomorrah. Saviano is in police protection after death threats from jailed Casalesi chieftains.
Cosentino denies wrongdoing and was initially reported to be resisting pressure from the PdL to withdraw his candidacy. Other key party figures who have been dropped from lists include Senator Marcello Dell'Utri, a former close aide of Berlusconi who is on trial for alleged links to the Mafia, and former industry minister Claudio Scajola, who is on trial over a shady real-estate deal in Rome and is also being probed for alleged corruption concerning Brazilian contracts for Italian defence giant Finmeccanica. Berlusconi described the decision to exclude the candidates as ''painful'' but said the lists were now beyond criticism and that debate could consequently focus on programmes and content.
Berlusconi himself is on trial in two cases: for allegedly paying for sex with an underage prostitute and for alleged involvement in the publication of an illegally obtained wiretap.
He was recently convicted of tax fraud. The ex-premier has said he will not become premier in the event of a centre-right victory but instead has set his sights on the position of economy minister.