An electrical device the size of a matchbox has sent a jolt through Italian politics.
A radio transmitter found behind the desk of former Premier Silvio Berlusconi caused outrage - and rare unity - among Italian politicians. Politicians on the right and the left demanded an investigation of what one ally called Italy’s Watergate.
Berlusconi, a multimillionaire businessman and leader of a center-right opposition party, held up what he called a bug at an impromptu news conference Friday night. It appeared to be a 9-volt battery with wiring and circuitry attached by black tape.
He said the device was found in a radiator during an inspection of his luxurious residence-headquarters in a Renaissance Roman palace.
Berlusconi said the bug was evidence that Italians were living in a “police state.”
Rocco Buttiglione, who heads a faction in Berlusconi’s center-right Freedom Alliance, said the affair “would be no less a scandal than Watergate” if government agencies were found to be involved.
Premier Romano Prodi, who leads a center-left government and is considered Berlusconi’s political enemy, termed it an “uncivil matter, unworthy of a democracy,” and demanded an investigation.
Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Let’s Go Italy) party demanded that the Chamber of Deputies convene a special session to discuss the affair.
Politicians speculated that overzealous prosecutors, political operatives or rogue intelligence agents had planted the bug.
Prosecutors in Milan, who are prosecuting Berlusconi for alleged payoffs to tax inspectors of his Fininvest Media empire, quickly denied any involvement.
Authorities are waiting for a formal complaint before opening an investigation, chief Rome prosecutor Giuseppe Volpari told the ANSA news agency.
Daily leaks from wiretaps being used to investigate state officials and businessmen are feeding criticism that prosecutors have gone overboard in using surveillance to rout out corruption.
The long-running “Mani Pulite” (Clean Hands) corruption investigations have overturned Italy’s traditional parties, showing the power of prosecutors over politicians.