The ‘SME’ case now running in the Milan courts, which includes il Presidente del Consiglio, Silvio Berlusconi, among the defendants, may never get to the stage where it sentences him to prison, as happened with his lawyer Cesare Previti in a previous and related case. However, the ‘Cavalier’s’ fury on the day Previti was sentenced spoke for itself. It was more than enough proof that for the leader of the Italian government the damage done to him by the sentence handed down to his lawyer was as serious as if it had been against himself. Since getting elected he had made every effort to avoid the prosecution of those close to him, such as his lawyer, knowing well how it would reflect on him. The fact that Previti’s crime – bribing a judge – was done on behalf of Berlusconi’s business dealings made it all the more serious for him. Typically, neither of them felt the slightest shame but instead concentrated on brazening it out, blaming all on a ‘golpista’ (coup-plotting) judiciary! "Magari" (We should be so lucky!).
Just two weeks before Italy takes on the presidency of the European Union, its prime minister is in court to face legal charges of bribing a judge. According to the state attorney, Il Cavaliere, as Silvio Berlusconi is known, bribed a judge in 1985. It is alleged that he cheated his business rival, Carlo de Benedetti, who had already signed a contract to buy the SME food company. Berlusconi made a higher bid and the contract with de Benedetti was annulled by the courts.
Berlusconi, the richest man in Italy, has faced a number of trials over the last few years, for allegedly avoiding tax and perjury, amongst other things. He has been found guilty on some issues, but has managed to avoid a sentence by claiming insufficient evidence against him or the charges have been dropped because they were committed so long ago.
Since coming to office, Berlusconi has used the right wing majority in parliament to change legislation to stop four other legal cases against him. Nevertheless he was unable to wriggle out of the SME allegations, which brought him to trial on 5 May. In a desperate bid to throw the spotlight off his own doings, Berlusconi has carried out an unprecedented attack against the legal system, saying its decisions are "politicised" against him. He has also desperately manoeuvred to once again avoid the consequences of a full trial. His appearance in the court on 17 June is only his second in the three years that the case has already lasted.
Gerri Creegan, CWI /Lotta per il socialismo, reports from Italy on the Berlusconi case.
The trials and tribulations of ‘Il Cavaliere’
Last September, a law agreed by all parties (Lodo) and proposed by one Senator (Maccanico), excluding people in high public office from being prosecuted, at least while still in office, was rejected by Berlusconi. Why? Because this accord foresaw exclusion from trial for only five ’altos cargos’ (the top five people in the state) among them, naturally, il Presidente del Consiglio.
However, although he would be among the handful of those protected by such a law this was not enough. It would save Berlusconi himself but not his friends and accomplices such as Previti. His motivation, however, is not so much loyalty to his friends but rather the knowledge that saving his friend’s skin is part and parcel of saving his own.
Instead he supported the Cirami Law which would have allowed people on trial to have their case moved to another court ’where there was just cause’, i.e. if they thought they couldn’t be guaranteed a fair trial in the first one. This law had the much greater attraction of allowing not only Berlusconi, but also his friends to move their trial from the ’communist’ judiciary in Milan to the much more lenient one in e.g. Perugia.
The Cirami Law was rushed through parliament in order to be in time to save Mr Previti, due to stand trial in Milan. However, the judicial body responsible for such things decided the Cirami Law didn’t apply in Previti’s case and he would have to stand trial in Milan. This ended with an 11-year sentence for the Premier’s former lawyer.
"Stop the communists"
Meanwhile, back in the Milan courtroom, the judges hampered in their investigation by Berlusconi’s constant absences, decide to separate his part of the SME trial from the rest, ’lo stralcio’ as it is known in Italian, to allow for his busy schedule. This in effect allows him to skip the trial. But Berlusconi, once again, was not at all as delighted with this development as one might expect. One reason might be, as one satirist put it, because so much of his ’busy schedule’ was as a direct result of the amount of time he spent trying to stop the cases against him even taking place!
But the real reason is a more serious one. In fact Berlusconi’s problem with ’lo stralcio’ is the same as with the ’Lodo Meccanico’. It will save Berlusconi but not his friends. The Lodo Meccanico has now become law and though pleased to have some respite from court appearances, it will not save him from being tainted when those associated with him have to do so.
The recent local elections provided Berlusconi with another occasion where he could continue his most urgent political project, saving his own neck. There were of course several different reasons why Berlusconi wanted to use the local elections as a mid-term vote of confidence in himself: – to widen his electoral base and impose discipline in the ruling coalition, the ‘Casa della Liberta’, among others. But the most important reason was because he desperately wanted to stop the trials in which he and others close to him are now involved.
Using his control of TV, shamelessly and not having a single political idea, a desperate Berlusconi fell back on the 30-year-old battle cry, "Stop the Communists!" In messianic tone he called on his "apostles of Liberty" to defend democracy from the "red threat", in what was seen by some as a return to the divisions of 1948.
Now all that has come to nothing as the administrative elections, especially in the second round of voting, have resulted in a resounding win for the left. Not only have the governing parties lost votes and seats, they have had to suffer the ignominy of defeat in supposed strongholds such as Friuli.
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