Silvio Berlusconi attacks press for defamation over unanswered questions. Richard Owen

Silvio Berlusconi has launched a fierce attack on La Repubblica, accusing the newspaper of defamation and denigration after it challenged him to explain his relationship with Noemi Letizia, the teenager who calls him Papi.

A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s office said that there was a media campaign against Mr Berlusconi, 72, fuelled by “envy and hatred of a Prime Minister who has achieved historic levels of public trust”.

It said this took the form of “low attacks” which were aimed at influencing the European and local elections in June. Because it lacked “concrete political arguments” the opposition was exploiting “exclusively private matters for political ends”.

Mr Berlusconi’s office did not reply directly to ten questions posed by La Repubblica, which the left-leaning paper said it had put to the Prime Minister on Monday. The paper said that the issues were not private but political. It said that Gianni Letta, Mr Berlusconi’s chief aide, had promised a reply in two days. Since none had arrived the paper decided to publish the “contradictions and omissions” in Mr Berlusconi’s account of the row over Ms Letizia and his relations with starlets, which nearly two weeks ago led Veronica Lario, 52, his second wife, to demand a divorce.

The unresolved issues include how and when Mr Berlusconi met Ms Letizia, her father, Benedetto, and her mother, Anna; why he claimed that he had not put foward showgirls as candidates for the European elections – saying that the allegation was a “left wing plot” – when Il Giornale, his own newspaper, confirmed that he had; and why he denied that he was involved in selecting European election candidates yet maintained he had consulted Ms Letizia’s father on MEP candidates in Naples, even though Mr Letizia had no political standing locally.

Mr Berlusconi, who is under attack from the Church, the UN and human rights groups as well as the Left over his hardline policy towards immigrants, appears to have been stung by a poll this week in La Repubblica which showed that his approval rating had slipped three points to 53 per cent. He maintains that his own soundings show a popularity rating of 75 per cent.

Mr Berlusconi has used his control of Italian media to fight back, hinting that Ms Lario is unstable. Corriere della Sera said that she was distressed by this tactic, telling friends she had not expected such a ferocious reaction from her husband.

It said that she was particularly alarmed that the right-wing paper Libero had run front-page pictures of her topless when she was an actress 30 years ago under the headline: “Veronica Ungrateful Showgirl”.

The opposition Democratic Party said that Mr Berlusconi would “do better to answer” the questions.

The questions

1 Mr President, how and when did you first meet Noemi Letizia’s father?

2 During the course of this friendship how many times, and where, have you met?

3 How would you describe the reasons for your friendship with Benedetto Letizia?

4 Why did you discuss candidates with Signor Letizia, who is not even a member of the PDL?

5 When did you get to know Noemi Letizia?

6 How many times have you met Noemi Letizia, and where?

7 Do you take an interest in Noemi and her future, or support her family economically in any way?

8 Is it true that you promised Noemi you would help her career in show business or in politics?

9 Veronica Lario said that you “frequent under-age girls”. Do you meet any others or “bring them up”?

10 Your wife says that you are not well and that you “need help”. What is the state of your health?


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