ROME (REUTERS) - Mr Silvio Berlusconi was at the centre of a new storm on Monday after a private phone call in which he made assertions about President Giorgio Napolitano was aired on television, prompting a furious reaction from the president.
A current affairs programme on private channel La 7 broadcast a phone tap in which Mr Berlusconi said he had been informed that Mr Napolitano had exerted influence on Italy's top appeals court in a case involving Mr Berlusconi's media empire.
Mr Berlusconi said he had heard that Mr Napolitano called the court to find out the verdict before it had been announced and then told the court to re-convene, finally resulting in a more negative verdict for Mr Berlusconi.
The 88-year-old president issued a fiercely worded statement saying that what Mr Berlusconi said he had been told was "simply another delirious, vulgar and slanderous invention regarding regarding the head of state".
Mr Berlusconi's lawyer, Mr Niccolo Ghedini, said the decision to broadcast the conversation was "a violation of Italy's constitutional principles". Mr Berlusconi's spokesman was not available for comment.
Earlier this month the appeals court ordered Mr Berlusconi's family holding company Fininvest to pay a 494-million euro (S$839 million) fine to a rival company, CIR, stemming from its improper acquisition of publisher Mondadori more than 20 years ago.
Mr Berlusconi can ill afford to alienate Mr Napolitano, who is the supreme arbiter of Italian politics and is the only person who can dissolve parliament and call new elections, as Mr Berlusconi wants.
Relations have been increasingly tense between the two men since Mr Berlusconi was convicted of tax fraud last month. Many of Mr Berlusconi's allies have criticised the president for not granting Mr Berlusconi a pardon or intervening in the legal process in some other way to help their leader.
Mr Napolitano has made clear his own exasperation with Mr Berlusconi's recent steps to undermine the government of Prime Minister Enrico Letta.
Last week he described as "absurd" Mr Berlusconi's claims that the judges who convicted him were guilty of subversion or a coup d'etat and repeated that neither he nor Mr Letta could do anything to change the outcome of the trial.