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When Italian voters swept out the Christian Democrats and Socialists and elected business tycoon Silvio Berlusconi prime minister, they clearly intended to make a clean break with the past.

Italian voters expressed at the ballot box, in the strongest terms possible, their outrage at the corruption that had pervaded and poisoned the Italian political system.Berlusconi was seen as an outsider who would clean up politics and reinvigorate the economy.

So far he has been a terrible disappointment.

It's not just that he has neglected the tough economic issues while finding plenty of time for patronage games. More recently, though, the taint of corruption has threatened to stain Berlusconi as well.

Late last week, Salvatore Sciascia, the chief of the tax division of Berlusconi's company, Fininvest, confessed that he took money from Paolo Berlusconi, the prime minister's brother, to bribe Italian officials - to the tune of more than $200,000.

Later, Italian authorities issued a warrant for the arrest of Paolo Berlusconi, who is also under indictment on other corruption charges.

Despite his campaign promises, Prime Minister Berlusconi has not yet divested himself of his business interests in Fininvest.

That, of course, raises the question of his awareness of the bribery.

The integrity of the prime minister was further tarnished after reports that he met with Cabinet officials and Fininvest executives at his villa after the news of Sciascia's impending arrest was made.

These developments came directly on the heels of Prime Minister Berlusconi's attempt to deprive Italian magistrates, the equivalent of American prosecutors, of one of their most effective tools in pursuing corruption.

Magistrates had used detention of suspects in bribery and corruption cases as a way to safeguard evidence from being hidden or destroyed.

The public reaction was so intense that Berlusconi subsequently was forced to withdraw his edict although he defended the edict as a matter of civil liberties for the accused.

But Italians have reason to question whether Berlusconi is using the power of his position not to protect justice - but his relatives, business associates and friends.

Could it be that the man who posed as the independent, crusading outsider is an insider par excellence?