di Davide Marchetta
Rome, February 20 - Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi has been accused of trying to cheat and buy votes ahead of Sunday and Monday's general election after sending an election letter to the Italian people about a property-tax rebate. Berlusconi has promised to scrap the much-hated IMU property tax introduced by his successor, outgoing Premier Mario Monti, and give back the money paid in 2012 if his centre-right coalition wins the election. But rival politicians said the letter, which arrived in many Italian letterboxes late on Tuesday, was deceptive as it looked like an official document informing people about how to obtain a rebate, rather than an election pamphlet. "If I'd crossed paths with Berlusconi after the letter was sent, I'd have told him he's a cheat," said Pier Luigi Bersani, the leader of the centre-left coalition that was around 5% ahead of Berlusconi's alliance before a pre-election opinion-poll blackout kicked in this month. Antonio Ingroia, a former anti-Mafia prosecutor who is the premier candidate for the new left-wing Civic Revolution party, said Berlusconi had committed two crimes with breaches of the country's electoral law. Outgoing Premier Mario Monti, who is standing for office on a reform package backed by centrist parties, said he was astounded. "When I said that Berlusconi would try to buy the votes of the Italian people with the money of the State, I didn't think he would take what I feared he would do, and what he is doing, so much to the letter," Monti told the TV channel of daily newspaper La Repubblica. Berlusconi signed the letter as his coalition's candidate to be economy minister. He has said Angelino Alfano, his People of Freedom (PdL) party's secretary, will be premier if the centre right wins. Alfano defended the letter, saying it was not deceptive. "The letter is a way to inform the public about a commitment, a concrete proposal that Silvio Berlusconi will carry out, that we all will carry out, regarding the rebate of the 2012 IMU and its elimination for the coming years," said Alfano. "No one is being forced into anything. A person reads the letter. If they are not convinced, they will vote for another party. If they are convinced, they'll vote for the PdL".