Berlusconi goes down
He's down, but never count Silvio out. This could yet be the making of a new Italian centre-Right
So, he’s gone. It seems inevitable now, but at the time the whole nation held its breath. The final court, contentiously, declared it would hear the appeal on 30th July. The sentence would be handed down that evening or the following morning.
Then it was announced there would be a delay. Had the finest – and most expensive – legal team in the land uncovered something we hadn’t guessed? Apparently Professor Coppi spoke for five hours in Silvio’s defence. He even said that the amount concerned - $7 million in tax evasion – was too small to have interested such a wealthy man.
When the verdict finally came there was shock. The High and Mighty are not often brought down in Italy, and Berlusconi’s opponents could scarcely believe that a man who has wriggled out of so many inquiries, investigations, charges, even sentences could now be found guilty on final appeal.
Berlusconi’s supporters -- and there are many -- still believe, as the great man himself professes, that the magistracy were out to get him. So many people evade so many taxes in Italy it is hard to believe that such an important person could be undone on such a thing.
What now? He is likely to go be given a year’s house arrest at the Villa Arcore outside Milan or the Palazzo Grazioli in Rome. He will give up his passport; he also has a diplomatic passport and I wondered for a while if this might be left him by the Home Affairs Minister, his protégé Angelino Alfano. But no, the decision is up to the Foreign Minister, the left-wing Emma Bonino; so no chance there.
The next thing that happens is that the Milan Tribunal will recalculate the ban on his holding public office. This is likely to be reduced from five years to three years and the Tribunal will ask the Senate, in secret ballot, to expel him.
This debate will be worth watching. His own PdL grouping, perhaps with a couple of abstentions, will vote not to expel. Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement will vote against him; but the Left?
If the PdL threaten to leave the government if he is expelled, Enrico Letta the Prime Minister will ask his centre-left group to vote to retain him to protect the Government –- a most extraordinary state of affairs. But it is believed too many old left-wingers would follow their consciences and vote him down: Berlusconi has outraged them for twenty years.
But whatever happens in the vote, there is the bitter pill that a man who has so often changed the law to protect himself should be undone by a law promulgated by another. Mario Monti in his short tenure changed the candidacy laws to prevent someone convicted of a serious crime (and this counts) from offering themselves for either house of parliament in an election.
No one thought much about it at the time because no one could imagine Silvio being convicted. So now even if he were to bring the government down he could not stand in the election.
But Silvio can be the eminence grise behind his re-launched party Forza Italia! and it may be that his daughter Marina will lead it. Never count Silvio out. This could be the making of a new centre-right.
In sum, as well as being bad news for Berlusconi, this whole affair is bad news for Letta, who is likely to see his government fall, and bad news for anyone who writes about Italy. We have lost the man who provided the best copy in Europe.
Tim Hedges had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelance writer, novelist, and farmer
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