Rome, February 14 - Italian magistrates on Thursday condemned ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's contention that companies are forced to view bribes as a part of doing business in the third world. Berlusconi sparked a pre-election flap by saying criticism of bribes such as those suspected in a major helicopter deal by defence giant Finmeccanica with India amounted to "facile moralism". The judges and prosecutors' union ANM said the statement from the media magnate, who was premier at the time of the 12-copter deal in 2010, was "unacceptable". International corruption "is not (just) ethically reprehensible behaviour but a crime (which) must be prosecuted," said ANM chief Rodolfo Sabelli. Centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani, Berlusconi's main rival in the February 24-25 elections, also reacted sharply, saying "enough of Berlusconi, enough with kickbacks". Former prosecutor Antonio Ingroia, leading a small leftist coalition, said Berlusconi, who has seen a number of corruption convictions overturned and is currently appealing a film-rights fraud conviction, was "acquitting himself" by implication. Berlusconi, who is also on trial for sex with an underaged prostitute and illegally obtaining a wiretap, has long accused allegedly left-wing prosecutors of persecuting him. On Wednesday he said Italy's independent judiciary was "out of control" and had to be reined in.
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di Sebastiano Caspanello