Berlusconi's defence of bribes sparks backlash

Last Updated: Fri, Feb 15, 2013 05:08 hrs

Rome: Italy's former premier Silvio Berlusconi on Thursday drew criticism from the country's magistrates and centre-left politicians over his remarks defending bribery.

"Bribes are a phenomenon that exists, you cannot deny the need for them when you negotiate with third world countries or in some regimes," Berlusconi said on Italian public broadcaster Rai.

Berlusconi's comments were "extremely serious, and unacceptable", said Rodolfo Sabelli, president of Italy's association of magistrates.

The chief whip for Italy's largest centre-left Democrat Party, Dario Franceschini, said Berlusconi's remarks were "astounding" and "set a bad example".

Besides the corruption probe into Finmeccanica, prosecutors have also launched investigations against the head of energy company ENI over deals in Algeria.

Both ENI chief Paolo Scaroni and Orsi were appointed during Berlusconi's time in office.

The billionaire media magnate-cum-politician 's remarks came amid a graft scandal concerning a 560 million euro deal between Italian defence and aerospace giant Finmeccanica and India.

"India is a country outside of the Western hemisphere, it is an absurd form of moralising, you cannot be an entrepreneur in this way," Berlusconi said.

His remarks follow the arrest of Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi earlier this week on suspicion of paying bribes to Indian officials to secure a 560 million euro ($750 mn) helicopter deal.

Since the Finmeccanica scandal broke, the Indian government has suspended its business with the Italian defence group.

Berlusconi defends Finmeccanica's jailed CEO, says bribes 'necessary' part of doing business

Defending Finmeccanica SpA's jailed ex-chief executive officer Giuseppe Orsi, Berlusconi on Thursday said bribes are a necessary part of doing business globally.

"Bribes are a phenomenon that exists and it's useless to deny the existence of these necessary situations," Berlusconi said in a televised interview.

"These are not crimes. We're talking about paying a commission to someone in that country. Why, because those are the rules in that country," the former premier was quoted as saying by Bloomberg.

In February 2010, India had inked the deal to acquire the 12 three-engine AW-101 helicopters from AgustaWestland for IAF's elite Communication Squadron, which ferries the President, PM and other VVIPs.

The deal came under the scanner of Italian agencies after allegations of kickback given in India surfaced.

The agencies arrested Orsi on Tuesday as part of their probe related to international corruption.

It is alleged that Orsi, who was heading the helicopter unit, when the deal was struck, was involved in the bribery.

Around 50 million euros (Rs362 crore approximately), about 10% of the deal, were alleged to have been given as bribes to ensure that the company won the contract.

Italian news agency ANSA quoted Berlusconi as saying that probes by Italian prosecutors into contracts Italian firms sign abroad were a form of "economic suicide".

"Everyone knows that as well as the tenders, agreements between governments are also involved," Berlusconi said.

He added: "The fact that there is the risk of magistrates intervening I consider to be economic suicide".

Terming Orsi's arrest as "pure masochism", Berlusconi said it will hurt the prospects of other Italians businesses.

"No one will negotiate with Eni or Enel or Finmeccanica anymore... It's pure masochism," he said.

Eni is Italian oil major, while Enel is a power producer there.

"These are absurd moralisms," the former Italian premier said. He further added that, "If you want to make moralisms like that, you can't be an entrepreneur on a global scale."

Meanwhile Orsi's lawyer Ennio Amodio termed the evidences against him as "inconsistent" and said his arrest is "unjustified".

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