Thursday 19 October 2017

Berlusconi in European court bid to save his seat

Convicted: Silvio Berlusconi
Convicted: Silvio Berlusconi

Frances D'Emilio and Sarah DiLorenzo

FORMER Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is turning to Europe's human rights court in a bid to avoid a ban on public office and other punishments for his tax fraud conviction, the media mogul's aides have said.

The politician and media magnate was found guilty of artificially inflating the amounts paid for film rights by his Mediaset empire to reduce the company's tax liabilities. Berlusconi claims he is an innocent victim of magistrates who sympathise with the Left, but the verdict was upheld by Italy's top criminal court last month.

His top aide, Angelino Alfano, said the petition to the Strasbourg, France-based tribunal "shows that the Berlusconi case isn't closed".

INNOCENCE

Mr Alfano didn't say when or on what grounds the petition to the European court was filed. "But we are really confident that, at the European level, we can reach a finding of innocence that so far in Italy hasn't been possible," he said.

Italy's Court of Cassation confirmed a four-year prison term – though Berlusconi is unlikely to actually serve it – and also ordered a Milan appeals court to determine the length of a ban on serving in public office from one to three years.

A senate panel will start formally discussing if Berlusconi must surrender his senate seat today. That deliberation isn't based on the ban ordered by the Cassation Court, but a 2012 law that says those sentenced to more than two years in prison are ineligible to hold public office for six years.

The president of the senate panel insisted its work would go forward without waiting for a decision from Strasbourg.

"What will we do if it (the court) takes 10 years to evaluate" Berlusconi's bid? Dario Stefano, a left-wing senator, asked Rome daily 'Il Messaggero'. "I believe that law mandates us to vote now on whether Berlusconi loses his seat."

Eventually, the entire senate will vote on whether to strip Berlusconi of his seat.

Berlusconi's lawyers have contended that because the tax fraud occurred many years before the law was made, the media mogul shouldn't be kicked out of parliament.

The human rights court rejects most petitions, but if it does take up Berlusconi's recourse and rule in his favour, Italy would be expected to abide by the ruling, since its decisions are binding on the 47 countries in the Council of Europe.

The court has an appeals process, so any decision in Strasbourg could take a long time before it is final.

Irish Independent

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