Berlusconi Investigated for Using Funds to Send Actress to Venice Fest

The Italian Prime Minister allegedly used $530,000 so that Bulgarian actress Michelle Bonev could receive an award created for her at the European film festival.

CANCUN, Mexico -- The Italian court of auditors has opened a full investigation into whether Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi may have used as much as €400,000 ($530,000) in state funds to fly Bulgarian actress Michelle Bonev to this year’s Venice Film Festival to receive an award created specifically for her.
According to media reports, Bonev, a personal friend of the 74-year-old Berlusconi, was flown to Venice from the Bulgarian capital of Sofia with an entourage of 32 in order to receive a special honor for contributions to women’s rights. The Italian press reported that the award was created specifically for the 39-year-old Bonev after Berlusconi insisted that she be given “some kind of award.”
There is no word yet when the investigation will reach its conclusion, but it has already created diplomatic friction between Bulgaria and Italy after Bulgarian culture minister Vejdi Rashidov claimed the trip was paid for by Italy. Sandro Bondi, Rashidov’s Italian counterpart, denied the claim, saying his ministry did not pay “even one cent” for the visit.
The case is the latest in a long line of embarrassing developments for Berlusconi, the billionaire media kingpin who controls the Italian broadcast giant Mediaset and film production house Medusa. Amid slow economic growth and low approval levels Berlusconi, who faces a confidence vote that will decide the future of his government Dec. 14, has faced a series of sex and influence peddling scandals as well as the revelation that he was referred to as “feckless” and “vain” in documents released in the U.S. Wikileaks information dump.
If proved true, the Bonev incident could also be a rare inkblot on the record of the storied Venice Film Festival. When contacted, Venice officials declined to comment, saying they wanted to stay away from the issues related to Bonev.
The particulars of the case are complicated. Bonev came to Venice in connection with the film “Goodbye Mama,” which tells the story of three generations of women from the same family. Bonev produced the film and starred as the middle generation woman in the film.
Reports from the Italian media said that Italian state broadcaster RAI, which is under the control of the Berlusconi government, paid €1 million ($1.3 million) -- a high figure for a film with limited blockbuster appeal in Italy -- for the right to the film, paid to Romantica Entertainmant, the production company Bonev owns. The director of RAI Cinema said he was ordered to buy the film by Mauro Masi, RAI’s director general who was appointed by the Berlusconi government. But Masi denied the claim.
In October, RAI announced that in-company projections predicted that the company would lose at least €120 million ($158 million) this year, and as much as €600 million ($795 million) by 2012.