Monti tells doubters he was 'the Saddam Hussein of business'
(ROME) - Italy's premier Mario Monti, faced with doubts over his independence from Europe and fears he will favour city fat cats, has told critics about his nickname as the "Saddam Hussein of business".
Monti, an international adviser to US Banking giant Goldman Sachs who earned a formidable reputation as a trust-busting bureaucrat in Brussels, denied having compromising ties with "powerful forces" in banks or institutions.
"Allow me to speak clearly on the question of conflicts of interest, of 'powerful forces' and other far-fetched expressions which I find offensive," he said during his first speech to Italy's lower house on Friday.
"I don't know any powerful forces in Italy... but I had the privilege to see almost all the strong powers in the world during my work as a competition commissioner" in Europe, he said.
"Those powerful forces still remember it: (such as) the day I blocked a merger between two big American groups, even though the president of the United States intervened," he said.
"The Economist wrote that the American business world considered Mario Monti to be the Saddam Hussein of business" because of his defiance of power and refusal to bow to pressure from influential quarters, he quipped.
During his time in Brussels, the steely Monti took on -- and won against -- US corporate giants Microsoft and General Electric over breaches of European competition laws.
Italy's new premier said he had been offended by the accusations but understood it was up to his new technocratic government to prove critics wrong.
Monti's cabinet is also accused of being to cosy to big business because Economic Development Minister Corrado Passera was chief executive of the Intesa Sanpaolo bank, while the Sports Minister Piero Gnudi was head of energy giant Enel.
Turning the tables on the MPs, Monti asked them not to use the expression "pull the plug" to describe parliament's ability to bring the government down -- a phrase his predecessor Silvio Berlusconi has used since he lost power.
"We're going to have identity issues, because we don't see ourselves as electric appliances and we won't know if we are an electric razor or an artificial lung," he joked.
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