Wednesday 21 February 2018

Battling Berlusconi thrown out of Senate after tax conviction

Berlusconi addresses his devotees. Alessandro Bianchi
Berlusconi addresses his devotees. Alessandro Bianchi
Italian senator Alessandra Mussolini – granddaughter of Benito Mussolini – defends Berlusconi. Franco Origlia

Nick Squires, Rome

HE WAS never going to go quietly. Silvio Berlusconi, the man who has given new meaning to the word chutzpah, defiantly pledged to remain at the heart of Italian politics yesterday despite being ignominiously stripped of his seat in parliament as a result of a conviction for massive tax fraud.

His expulsion, which came at the end of a momentous day, would have left most politicians bruised, demoralised and slinking off to an obscure retirement stained with shame and regret.

But Mr Berlusconi is no ordinary politician, and instead used the occasion to audaciously relaunch himself once again, promising to lead his Forza Italy party to future elections and vowing never to "betray" his voters.

Far from being bowed, the scandal-ridden 77-year-old came out with all guns blazing.

The vote, which was the consequence of a conviction he received in August for engaging in tax fraud in the purchase of film rights for his Mediaset television empire, marked "a day of bitterness, of mourning for democracy", he said.

Having defied the advance of time with facelifts, hair transplants and a 28-year-old fiancee, Mr Berlusconi pledged to defy his political enemies, promising to rise phoenix-like from the ashes of his humiliation.

"I'm not going to be retiring to some convent," he told a crowd of around 1,500 supporters who had been brought to the capital from all over Italy by buses paid for by his party. "We're staying here!"

He pointed out that other political figures in Italy, notably Beppe Grillo of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, were able to lead their parties despite not being members of parliament.

"Even if you are not a parliamentarian, you can continue to fight for freedom," he told the cheering crowd.

The Senate, the upper house of parliament, voted by a majority to expel the three-time prime minister, bringing to an end a tumultuous, 20-year parliamentary career marked by sex scandals, corruption investigations and allegations of mafia association.

Mr Berlusconi had chosen not to be in the Senate for the vote, anxious to avoid the humiliation of being marched out of the chamber by ushers on the orders of the speaker of the house.

Instead he appeared on a stage outside Palazzo Grazioli, his mansion in central Rome, from where he addressed his adoring supporters.

They let off coloured smoke flares, waved banners that read "I love Silvio, I love liberty", and wore badges claiming that the vote against the media baron was "a coup d'etat".

INNOCENT

As supporters insisted that Mr Berlusconi was innocent of the many corruption allegations he has faced over the last two decades, female members of his party, including Alessandra Mussolini, the granddaughter of the Fascist dictator, wore black as they solemnly filed into the Senate.

During the vote, one loyalist politician even compared Mr Berlusconi to Nelson Mandela, while two rival senators almost came to blows.

The tension inside the Senate was matched by melodrama a few hundred yards away, as Mr Berlusconi played the crowd as only he knows how, watched by his fiancee, Francesca Pascale, and her everpresent companion, a white poodle named Dudu.

The billionaire businessman announced a new initiative -- the formation of 'Forza Silvio' ("Go Silvio") political clubs across the country, "even in the tiniest villages".

He said he aimed to create 1,000 of the clubs in the next two weeks and that they would provide a platform for ordinary Italians who aspired to be "soldiers of democracy".

Shouting "Viva Italia, Via la Liberia", he thanked his loyalists for their support. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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