Berlusconi awaits Mediaset trial ruling
Supreme Court verdict against former prime minister could bring down coalition
Reporters’ tripods are left in position in front of Italy’s Supreme Court in Rome yesterday after lawyers for Silvio Berlusconi had asked the Supreme Court to throw out a tax fraud conviction against the former prime minister. Photograph: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters
Not for the first time in the last 20 years, Italian political life has been all but suspended this week as the country awaits the outcome of yet another controversial trial involving former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Italy’s Corte di Cassazione or Supreme Court is this morning due to issue a verdict in the so- called Mediaset trial.
If the Supreme Court upholds judgments from last October and from May this year, then media tycoon Mr Berlusconi runs the risk of both a four- year (suspended) prison sentence and a five-year ban from public office.
Essentially, this week’s Supreme Court hearing represents the third and definitive judicial level which means that, were the verdict to go against Mr Berlusconi, then the leader of the Italian centre-right could be expelled from political life.
Not for nothing, the state prosecutor Antonello Mura on Tuesday called this a case “laden with outside passions and emotions”.
In his address to the court, Mr Mura argued that Mr Berlusconi was the mentor for a complex system of “fiscal fraud” involving his Mediaset TV company.
He claimed that, via the use of offshore companies, Mr Berlusconi used the purchase of TV film rights to both create a $40 million slush fund and to avoid taxation, specifically in relation to the years 2001 to 2003 when he served as prime minister.
To suggest that this case is “politically sensitive” is about as perceptive as to report that right now it is rather hot in Rome (33 degrees, by the way).
Court cases involving Mr Berlusconi are always “sensitive” but this one comes against the background of a recession-struck Italy currently governed by a coalition of Mr Berlusconi’s PDL and the centre-left PD.
If the court rules against Mr Berlusconi, if he were to be “cast out” of political life, then there must be a serious risk that the Enrico Letta-led coalition government will fall.
For most of the last month, all sides of the political house have been doing an “emperor-has-no-clothes” routine, with even Mr Berlusconi and Mr Letta saying that today’s verdict will have no impact on the Letta government.
Time and again in recent days, politicians of both right and left have called on public opinion to separate Mr Berlusconi’s “judicial problems” from Italy’s “national emergencies”.
For 20 years now, however, this has proved impossible.
If today’s judgment goes against the former prime minister, then the Letta government could perish on the tsunami generated by both centre-right outrage and centre-left embarrassment.
Being Italy, however, this could be yet another false alarm, mitigated by a very “Italian” form of jurisprudence.
It seems unlikely that the court will overturn wholesale the previous verdicts but it may play for time, especially with regard to the prohibition from public office.
Already, Mr Mura has softened the state prosecution’s position, calling on Tuesday for Mr Berlusconi to be banned from public office for three years, not five, as established by the original sentence.
Will the Great Survivor survive yet again?