Prospect of pardon for Berlusconi raises political temperature

Statement from president fails to end speculation about PDL leader’s future

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi  recently received a four-year prison sentence and a ban from public office for tax fraud. Photograph: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi recently received a four-year prison sentence and a ban from public office for tax fraud. Photograph: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

Thu, Aug 15, 2013, 01:04



Two weeks on from the controversial supreme court ruling in which former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi (76) was given a four-year prison sentence and a ban from public office for tax fraud, the fate of the centre-right leader continues to dominate Italian politics.

From the moment the Corte di Cassazione issued its verdict on August 1st, senior figures in Mr Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PDL) party have campaigned for some kind of presidential pardon that would allow their leader to remain “politically active”. Such has been the pressure on Italian president Giorgio Napolitano that he felt obliged to issue a statement on the matter on Tuesday night.

If his intentions had been to clarify matters and stop the endless speculation, he failed. Firstly, the statement says Mr Berlusconi “must understand that this is a final, definitive sentence which has to be applied”.

This would seem a serious setback to the chances of a pardon. However, the president then added that if he were to receive a request for a pardon, it would receive “an objective and rigorous examination”.

Much of the statement sets out to underline the delicate moment in Italian politics, arguing that a government crisis and a fall of the 100-day-old PD/PDL coalition government led by prime minister Enrico Letta would be “fatal” for Italy. It would seem the president’s first priority is to avoid the collapse of the Letta government, a prospect raised by senior PDL figures who have reportedly threatened to pull out unless some solution to Mr Berlusconi’s predicament is found.

However, many argue that such reasoning is proof that not everyone is equal in Italian law. Pardons are usually conceded for exceptional “humanitarian” reasons, yet in Mr Berlusconi’s case, the genesis of any pardon would be political.

The statement prompted some bitter reactions from Mr Berlusconi’s political rivals. While the centre-left PD party of Mr Letta remained largely silent, the opposition protest movement, M5S, was much less circumspect in its outrage.


Tax fraud
“Who does Napolitano think he is protecting? Certainly not Italy . . . Someone who has been found guilty of tax fraud cannot be the interlocutor of both the state president and the prime minister,” railed M5S leader and ex-comic Beppe Grillo.

In response to senior PDL figure Daniele Capezzone, who said the president’s words “deserved respect and attentive reflection”, M5S senator Michele Giarruso said the president himself should be impeached if he conceded a pardon to the former prime minister.

But to receive such a pardon, Mr Berlusconi must first ask for one. This would represent an admission of guilt, something he has not done before.

Furthermore, Mr Berlusconi may suspect that any eventual pardon would be granted only when and if he promises to withdraw from public life. This, too, is something he is unlikely to do.