Berlusconi fights to the end to keep Senate seat

2013-11-25 17:45
Silvio Berlusconi. (File, AFP)

Silvio Berlusconi. (File, AFP)

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Rome - Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi is fighting to the very end, claiming that newly recovered documents from the US will exonerate him from a devastating tax fraud conviction - even though the trial is over and his guilty verdict has been upheld by Italy's highest court.

Berlusconi's latest salvo on Monday came 48 hours before the Senate is due to vote on whether to kick him out of Parliament because of the conviction.

The 77-year-old media mogul has said his removal from Parliament would amount to a government coup, even though he has no role in the government.

Berlusconi is to elaborate on the documents later on Monday, an event that has the air of a desperate performance by a master politician aimed at fending off the expulsion vote, or at least showing his electorate that he never gave up trying.

"These are documents that prove incontrovertibly that I had nothing to do with what I'm accused of," Berlusconi told his Mediaset TV channel.

He said the documents justify re-opening the trial, or at the very least convincing senators not to vote to kick him out of Parliament.

Berlusconi was convicted last year over a scheme to purchase the rights to broadcast US movies on his Mediaset empire through a series of offshore companies that involved the false declaration of payments to avoid taxes.

His defence argued that he was busy in politics at the time and no longer involved in managing the day-to-day activities of the business.

Italy's high court upheld the conviction and four-year prison sentence on 1 August. A 2012 law bans anyone sentenced to more than two years in prison from holding or running for public office for six years.

Berlusconi's lawyers have argued the 2012 law can't be applied retroactively to crimes allegedly committed before it was passed, but the Senate vote to expel him appears poised to go ahead unless Berlusconi's allies can pull off a last-minute delay.

Ever since the high court ruling, Berlusconi has been battling to keep his power base intact, with decreasing success. On 2 October he was humiliated in Parliament when he was forced to back down from his threat to bring down the government after his ministers refused to back him.

Then on 15 November, his onetime political heir, Angelino Alfano, split the centre-right, refusing to join Berlusconi's new Forza Italia party and launching his own New Centre-Right with dozens of lawmakers opposed to the hawkish direction Forza Italia was taking.

Berlusconi has also lost the backing of Italy's president, Giorgio Napolitano, who could have pardoned him.

Napolitano had said he would consider any request for clemency over the tax fraud conviction, but Berlusconi said over the weekend in a heated attack on the head of state that Napolitano should grant the pardon even without him asking for it.

Late on Sunday, Napolitano's office made clear it would do no such thing, and in turn chastised Berlusconi for his tone and behaviour that "went beyond the limits of a respect for institutions".

Berlusconi, whose centre-right is joined in a fragile coalition with the Democratic Party in Premier Enrico Letta's government, has indicated he will join the opposition if he is pushed out of the Senate. But the government's survival should be guaranteed by Alfano's new party.

Despite his woes, the three-time premier at least had something to look forward to: a visit by his old friend Vladimir Putin. The Russian president was to dine at Berlusconi's Roman palazzo on Monday night after meeting with Pope Francis and Napolitano earlier in the day.

Read more on:    silvio berlusconi  |  italy

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