Italian voters on Wednesday began receiving the first letters in a gigantic mail shot ordered by Silvio Berlusconi, promising to pay them back billions of euros in tax.

The former prime minister's initiative, which drew accusations of foul play and even criminal wrongdoing from adversaries, appeared to be a final attempt to win over undecided voters before Italy's general election on Sunday and Monday. The last opinion polls to be published before a ban took effect on 9 February showed the media tycoon-turned-conservative leader trailing the centre-left by between five and six percentage points.

Berlusconi has based his campaign around a pledge to abolish a widely resented tax, the Imposta municipale unica (IMU) and refund the amount levied on principal residences. The letter, designed to resemble an official communication comes marked "Important notice".