Rome, Feb 23 (IANS/AKI) Italy’s foreign ministry on Tuesday summoned US Ambassador John Phillips after local media reports cited new Wikileaks files that suggest the US spied on ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi and his closest aides from 2008-2011.
Italy wants clarification about the reports that Berlusconi and some of his aides’ phones were tapped in 2011, the foreign ministry said in a statement, referring to articles published by left-leaning Italian newspaper La Repubblica and weekly magazine L’Espresso citing top-secret diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks on Tuesday.
The US National Security Agency allegedly monitored Berlusconi and his closest collaborators at a time when his last government was on the verge of collapse amid an unprecedented recession, the “Bunga bunga” sex scandals and US concerns about Berlusconi’s ‘special relationship’ with Russia, according to La Repubblica and L’Espresso.
A 2011 leaked diplomatic cable quoted Berlusconi’s personal adviser Valentino Valentini as calling “tense and very harsh towards the Rome government” an October 22 meeting between Berlusconi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and then French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
At the meeting, Merkel and Sarkozy were said to have brooked no excuses over Italy’s unprecedented economic crisis and pressured Berlusconi to implement rigorous measures to tackle Italy’s debt pile.
On October 24, Valentini indicated that European Union Council president Herman Van Rompuy had urged Italy to adopt policies aimed at reducing the impression within the EU that the country was weighed down by its vast debt “when it is also struggling with low productivity and showing little dynamism” according to the Wikileaks cables.
The documents also revealed that in a March 2010 conversation with Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, Berlusconi promised to help the Jewish state mend ties with the US amid a diplomatic crisis triggered by Netanyahu’s plans to build 1,600 houses in East Jerusalem.
According to the files, Berlusconi’s national security adviser Bruno Archi, his diplomatic adviser Marco Carnelos and Italy’s permanent representative to NATO, Stefano Stefanini, were also spied on by the NSA, whose mass surveillance programmes were exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013.
Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party whips in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, Renato Brunetta and Paolo Romani, urged Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s government to report to parliament on the alleged spying.
Renzi must also demand answers from US President Barack Obama over the alleged surveillance, Brunetta told the lower house of parliament.