Silvio Berlusconi has denied that he held a meeting with Kazakh dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev in Sardinia on the same day the Italian government came under fire for the illegal deportation of the wife and six-year-old daughter of a Kazakh dissident.
Sardinian daily Unione Sarda reported that Berlusconi, who paved the way for several trade agreements with resource-rich Kazakhstan when he was prime minister, held a secret meeting with Nazarbayev in the Sardinian coastal town of St. Teodoro.
But a statement from Berlusconi's press office said that the media mogul was at his mansion in Arcore, 20km northeast of Milan, on 6 July - the day when the alleged meeting took place.
Nazarbayev has spent his holidays in the Sardinian villa H20, which is owned by a friend of Berlusconi named Ezio Maria Simonelli.
Unione Sarda alleged that the two talked about the case of Alma Salbayeva and her daughter Aula, wife and daughter of Mukhtar Ablyazov, one of the dictator's fiercest political opponents and political refugee.
The two were arrested by police in a dawn raid on their house in Rome at the end of May and put on a private flight chartered by the Kazakh embassy in Vienna in less than 72 hours.
According to Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano, the plane was ready to take off hours before a judge authorised the operation.
Salabayeva and her daughter were expelled over allegations of holding forged documents and their requests for political asylum were ignored.
However, a court ruled on 5 July that the Central African Republic passport presented by Salabayeva was genuine.
The Italian government went under fire as foreign minister Emma Bonino denied all knowledge of the operation, and interior minister and deputy prime minister - Angelino Alfano was accused of being behind the operation.
ll Fatto Quotidiano has aired the possibility that Alfano, Silvio Berlusconi's number two, ordered the deportation to please his party leader, who is a friend of Nazarbayev.
Ablyazov, a billionaire former energy minister under Nazarbayev, fled Kazakhstan for London in 2009.
He won political asylum in Britain in 2011. His whereabouts are unknown as he has been on the run since February 2012 after being sentenced to 22 months in prison for contempt of court.