Italy OKs conflict-of-interest law


ROME -- The Italian parliament on Friday passed conflict-of-interest legislation, nearly six years after it was first proposed as a way to limit the influence of billionaire media tycoon and then Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

When Berlusconi -- the owner of Europe's largest media empire and Italy's richest citizen -- was elected prime minister in 2001, opposition lawmakers vowed to pass conflict-of-interest legislation that would force him to choose between his business holdings and his political office.

But even though Berlusconi was voted out of office more than a year ago, lawmakers were not able to decide on a final text that could pass through both houses of parliament until now.

Though the law does not mention Berlusconi by name, it clearly would have an impact on the 70-year-old leader if he decided to seek political office again. The law requires any figure with more than €15 million ($20.4 million) in assets in any one company to divest those shares or place them in a blind trust within 20 days of taking high political office.

That's a threshold Berlusconi easily surpasses. According to Forbes magazine, Berlusconi was the world's 37th richest person in 2006, with assets worth $11 billion -- with nearly half of that tied up in shares of broadcast giant Mediaset.

Though Berlusconi has vacillated on whether or not he would re-enter politics if he could, most political analysts believe he would step into a political role if there was an opening. But a spokesman for Mediaset said in an interview that the new law presented no problems to Berlusconi or Mediaset.

"How could this be relevant when Silvio Berlusconi is no longer involved in politics?" the spokesman asked.

The law does not affect any current members of the government's ruling coalition.

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