And so the circus surround the former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi just gets louder and more absurd. The 76-year-old Silvio was found guilty of tax evasion by a court in Milan, but the Italian court system allows him two rounds of appeal before he will actually be wearing any striped pyjamas. The ruling is a seminal moment in a case that has been running for six years and includes 10 other defendants. Oh yeah, and Berlusconi and his co-defendants have been handed a fine of about £8m, and the man himself has been banned from holding public office for three years.
Berlusconi, who at the height of the powers as prime minister was thought to control some 90% of his country's national broadcasting, denies any wrongdoing, and has accused the courts of convicting him because of political motivations. In other cases prior to this one, the courts have either cleared him, or the statute of limitations has expired before a final verdict could be reached. Prosecutors are alleging that all the defendants were responsible for a scheme to buy broadcast rights for US films on Berlusconi’s television networks, using offshore companies. The allegations are that they then falsely declared these payments so that substantial tax could be avoided.
Berlusconi stepped down as prime minister last November following extreme pressure to deal with the country’s mounting debts, to which he did not really have an answer. He was prime minister for three terms, but eventually ceded power in a slew of other scandals, including allegations that he paid for sex with an under-age teenage and then tried to cover up the scandal – for which he is now also on trial in Milan.
But, as any Italian will tell you, the country’s courts system is incredibly convoluted and slow-paced, which could give Berlusconi several opportunities to overturn this initial verdict. It's also worth noting that because the crime was allegedly committed when an amnesty designed to reduce prison over-crowing was in place, even if he went to jail it would most likely be for only one year. Surprise, surprise, eh?
There has already been some absurd sentencing in Italy even this week, when six seismologists were banged up for not having been able accurately to predict an earthquake that killed 300 people. Almost witch-hunt material.
Anyway, Berlusconi has said he won’t stand for election again, but this should certainly guarantee that he can’t change his mind. MT doesn’t bet on seeing the former premier languishing in a hot, sweaty jail any time soon. But the bunga bunga parties look to have slowed down.