Berlusconi tax-rebate letter sparks flap, legal complaint
Ex-premier accused of vote buying, bribery20 February, 18:34
Berlusconi has promised to scrap the much-hated IMU property tax introduced by his successor, outgoing Premier Mario Monti, and give back the money paid in 2012 if his centre-right coalition wins the election.
But rival politicians said the letter, which arrived in many Italian letterboxes late on Tuesday, was deceptive as it looked like an official document informing people about how to obtain a rebate, rather than an election pamphlet. "If I'd crossed paths with Berlusconi after the letter was sent, I'd have told him he's a cheat," said Pier Luigi Bersani, the leader of the centre-left coalition that was around 5% ahead of Berlusconi's alliance before a pre-election opinion-poll blackout kicked in this month.
Antonio Ingroia, a former anti-Mafia prosecutor who is the premier candidate for the new left-wing Civic Revolution party, said Berlusconi had committed two crimes with breaches of the country's electoral law.
Another former prosecutor, ex-Clean Hands investigator and Italy of Values party leader Antonio Di Pietro, called the letter "a scam that is punishable under the penal code".
Outgoing Premier Mario Monti, who is standing for office on a reform package backed by centrist parties, said he was astounded.
"When I said that Berlusconi would try to buy the votes of the Italian people with the money of the State, I didn't think he would take what I feared he would do, and what he is doing, so much to the letter," Monti told the TV channel of daily newspaper La Repubblica. Berlusconi signed the letter as his coalition's candidate to be economy minister. He has said Angelino Alfano, his People of Freedom (PdL) party's secretary, will be premier if the centre right wins.
Alfano defended the letter, saying it was not deceptive.
"The letter is a way to inform the public about a commitment, a concrete proposal that Silvio Berlusconi will carry out, that we all will carry out, regarding the rebate of the 2012 IMU and its elimination for the coming years," said Alfano.
"No one is being forced into anything. A person reads the letter. If they are not convinced, they will vote for another party. If they are convinced, they'll vote for the PdL".
Berlusconi scoffed at the accusations, saying his opponents "don't know where to hit me any more". Tax-payers thinking the rebate was already available queued at trade union tax-filing assistance offices in the northwestern city of Genoa, where officials told them they were wasting their time.
A member of Ingroia's Civic Revolution party filed a formal complaint about the letter to Rome prosecutors Wednesday.
In a statement to the prosecutors, Gianfranco Mascia - a candidate for the regional council in Lazio province - charged that Berlusconi's campaign promise to refund the hated housing tax amounts to money for votes.
Mascia said Berlusconi's promise to roll back IMU and refund the four billion euros collected was "bribery".
"To obtain a refund for (the housing tax) IMU 2012, you have to vote for the PdL".
He also complained that Berlusconi's campaign mail-outs to Italian homes amount to a "scam" because the envelopes, bearing a signed letter from Berlusconi, "appear to claim to contain an IMU refund".