Silvio Berlusconi will not seek reelection as Prime Minister when his term ends in 2013, suggesting that his justice minister could succeed him as the conservative party leader.
Speaking "off the record" to a select group of foreign reporters Tuesday night on the condition, the 74-year-old prime minister reportedly revealed that he would not stand at the next general election and indicated that he would hand over party control to Angelino Alfano, 40, seen as a rising star of Italian politics.
According to the Financial Times, a detailed account of the conversation with 20 journalists was leaked to Ansa, the Italian news agency.
Berlusconi, 74, beset by scandals — chiefly allegations that he paid for se with an underage prostitute and used his position to cover it up — announced in December that he would probably step aside in 2013.
He might still be involved in party politics in an elder statesman's role, but would not play "an active role in the government," The Associated Press reported.
Berlusconi also dismissed speculation he might campaign to become president of the republic, a largely ceremonial role elected by parliament, suggesting that Gianni Letta, a loyal deputy and a widely respected figure, was an "extraordinary candidate" for the job.
Berlusconi has survived numerous scandals and criminal trials during 17 years in politics, and many Italians were convinced the billionaire would try to seek a fourth term as prime minister, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Alfano was overseeing the passage of legislation that Berlusconi critics say is aimed at enabling the prime minister to escape justice on several matters, the Guardian reports. However, it will not affect the trial in which Berlusconi denies paying Karima el-Mahroug, also known as Ruby Heart Stealer, for sex — charges that revolve around "bunga bunga" sessions involving alleged prostitutes at his villa outside Milan.