Berlusconi court outburst could affect tax sentence

Former Italian prime minister accuses judiciary of being ‘out of control’

Silvio Berlusconi waves from his car as he leaves the Sacra Famiglia’ community in Cesano Boscone, near Milan, yesterday. Photograph: AP Photo/Luca Bruno

Silvio Berlusconi waves from his car as he leaves the Sacra Famiglia’ community in Cesano Boscone, near Milan, yesterday. Photograph: AP Photo/Luca Bruno

Sat, Jun 21, 2014, 01:00

It has been clear for a long time that centre-right opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi has a poor opinion of the Italian judiciary. He confirmed that in a Naples courtroom yesterday when he said: “The judiciary is out of control, ungovernable, irresponsible and enjoys total impunity.”

Mr Berlusconi was in court in the role of witness rather than defendant. Called to give evidence in a case in which one-time associate Walter Lavitola is charged with attempted fraud and embezzlement, Mr Berlusconi (77) had initially wanted to make a statement to the court and leave it at that.

However, judge Giovanna Ceppaluni ruled that he should take the stand and answer questions like anyone other witness.

Unaccustomed to cross-examination, Mr Berlusconi lost his cool towards the end of his evidence, saying that he did not “understand the sense of the questions”.

“There is no need for you to understand, that’s the way the trial works,” replied the judge as she instructed the media tycoon to answer the questions.

Mr Berlusconi’s outburst could yet cost him dear because one of the terms of the “community service” punishment that he is serving for his Mediaset tax fraud conviction of last summer was that he would refrain from criticising the judiciary in public. It could be that the Milan judges will now decide that he should serve out the rest of that (one year) sentence under “house arrest”, something which would greatly limit his movements.

In the meantime, Mr Berlusconi may be heading for further judicial trouble. Yesterday, he was back in court (in spirit this time, not in body) in Milan for an appeal against the “Rubygate” sentence of last June in which he received a seven years for “abuse of office” and “involvement in underage prostitution” with Moroccan Karim “Ruby” El Mahroug.

If the appeals court verdict, due on July 18th, confirms that sentence, then Mr Berlusconi might be facing a hefty house arrest sentence – up to 10 years, plus a permanent ban from political activity.

In the meantime, however, he continues to “negotiate” institutional and electoral reform with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, in the hope, according to commentators, that one day soon a new state president will grant him a pardon.