The leaked recordings, deeply embarrassing for the prime minister, were the last straw. Ms. Meloni reportedly read the whole operation as a conspiracy against her. Who was behind it? Marina Berlusconi — a 57-year-old businesswoman and the oldest child of Silvio Berlusconi, the four-time prime minister who died in June — was the obvious culprit. Though she does not have a role in Mediaset (the company is run by her brother Pier Silvio), Ms. Berlusconi is the chair of the company’s parent, Fininvest.

Ms. Berlusconi maintains that she has no intention of running for office, but that doesn’t mean she’s not interested in influencing politics. The family has a leading role in Forza Italia, a conservative party founded by Mr. Berlusconi that plays a small yet decisive role in the government coalition. (It helps that the children agreed to cover the party’s debt, worth $95 million, previously guaranteed by Mr. Berlusconi.) At the same time, the family, at the head of an estimated $6.8 billion empire, wants to make sure the government doesn’t interfere with its business interests.

In September, for example, Ms. Berlusconi sharply criticized the government’s proposed windfall tax on banks that would target the extra profits made from higher interest rates. The measure, a brainchild of Ms. Meloni, would have eaten into the earnings of Banca Mediolanum, which is partly controlled by the Berlusconi family and is central to its empire. Following Ms. Berlusconi’s lead, Forza Italia successfully worked to water down the bill.

Forza Italia has been an unhappy member of the government from the start, resentful of its junior status in a three-party right-wing coalition. Behind the appearance of harmony, it has clashed with Ms. Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party on several issues, including support for Ukraine, fiscal policy, inheritance tax and reform of the justice system. The Giambruno episode — apparently pitting Forza Italia against the prime minister — has further complicated relations and may even weaken a government that, under increased pressure from financial markets and regulatory institutions, is struggling to pass a budget.

Was Ms. Meloni the target of an elaborate plot to undermine her government? It’s tempting to overstate the scheming abilities of the people involved. (Ms. Berlusconi, for her part, strenuously denied speculation about her role in the controversy.) Italy is the country not only of Machiavelli but also of bunga bunga parties, and it’s not always easy to separate political cunning from sloppiness. Either way, the episode lays bare the conflicts of interests that define Italian public life.

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