Sunday 18 March 2018

Silvio Berlusconi moves into opposition ahead of vote to kick him out

Silvio Berlusconi has been expelled from the Italian Senate over his fraud conviction (AP)
Silvio Berlusconi has been expelled from the Italian Senate over his fraud conviction (AP)

Silvio Berlusconi pulled his Forza Italia party's support from the government last night, the eve of a vote to kick the media magnate out of Parliament because of his tax fraud conviction.

Mr Berlusconi had said he would move into the opposition if the Senate votes to strip him of his seat. The vote is scheduled for today and most analysts expect he will lose his seat.

With the vote looming, the head of Forza Italia in the lower Chamber of Deputies, Renato Brunetta, told reporters yesterday that "the conditions no longer exist for Forza Itaila to remain in the majority".

The stability of the government of President Enrico Letta was not expected to be affected in the short term. He can still count on the support of politicians who split with three-time premier Mr Berlusconi earlier this month and formed a new centre-right party.

Mr Berlusconi was convicted last year over the purchase of 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 August 1. The Senate vote is based on a 2012 law that bans anyone sentenced to more than two years in prison from holding or running for public office for six years.

Mr Berlusconi's lawyers have argued the 2012 law cannot be applied retroactively to crimes allegedly committed before it was passed.

They have denounced the insistence of Mr Berlusconi's opponents to go ahead with the vote before the European Court of Human Rights weighs in on whether the 2012 law violates European norms.

Mr Berlusconi's lawyers, Niccolo Ghedini and Franco Coppi, told reporters yesterday they were considering whether to ask an appeals court in Brescia to reopen the case in light of the new evidence they had just received - affidavits from witnesses saying Mr Berlusconi had nothing to do with the film deals.

Mr Coppi said that Italian law allows for such a review, even after the high court has handed down its judgment, if the defendant believes that justice has not been served.

Mr Ghedini stressed that no decision had been made. And Mr Coppi said it would take months to prepare the paperwork, which includes some 15,000 pages of documentation from Hong Kong, some of it in Chinese.

Press Association

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