Italy’s Foreign Ministry summoned the United States ambassador on Tuesday after media reports showed that American intelligence services tapped the telephones of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his aides in 2011.
The US National Security Agency (NSA) spied on the billionaire, four-time prime minister five years ago as his government was under pressure due to the euro zone debt crisis, an Italian newspaper reported.
The newspaper said that whistleblowing site WikiLeaks showed the 79-year-old media tycoon and head of Italy’s main centre-right party had been in the NSA’s limelight between 2008 and 2011.
Ambassador John Phillips met the director general of the foreign ministry Michele Valensise in the afternoon. After the meeting, the ministry issued a statement saying that Italy asked for "specific clarifications about what emerged in relation to the events of 2011."
Phillips "assured us that he will immediately refer the question to his superiors," the ministry said.
During the meeting, Phillips also mentioned that the US President Barack Obama banned eavesdropping on the leaders of close friends and allies of the US in 2014.
Obama made that decision in part to smooth over frayed relations between the United States and Germany after reports surfaced in 2013 that the NSA had monitored the cellphone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Although Berlusconi’s influence has lessened since he left government, he is still a prominent figure and leads Forza Italia, the second-largest party on the fragmented right wing of Italian politics.
Berlusconi is also owner of TV company Mediaset and has a majority stake in football team AC Milan.
Germany's federal prosecutor opened an inquiry into the alleged tapping of Merkel's mobile phone by the NSA but closed it after a year in June 2015, saying there was a lack of evidence that it would stand up in court.
Forza Italia member Renato Brunetta, staunch Berlusconi ally, said that there had been a “conspiracy” to bring down Berlusconi and warned current Prime Minister Matteo Renzi not to take the allegations too calmly.
"Let's not forget how the ratings agencies downgraded Italy for no reason other than to push Berlusconi out," Brunetta said on Twitter.
Berlusconi has repeatedly accused European Union officials of a “plot” to force him out of government. He resigned in November 2011 and was replaced by former European Commissioner Mario Monti.
Former US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner released a book in Italy in 2014. The book suggested EU officials had approached the US with a project to force Berlusconi to resign.