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Berlusconi: along the judicial trail PDF Print E-mail
Mar 09, 2011 at 06:12 PM

Image Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi plans to attend all four of the Milan-based trials he is currently involved in, his lawyer told reporters last week after meeting with the president of the Milan courthouse to try to work out a schedule that would allow the premier, who denies any wrongdoing, to appear at the three corruption trials and one sex trial in which he is facing charges. Berlusconi reportedly has said he would be available on Mondays for judicial proceedings against him.

This would appear to be a shift in the premier's strategy since until recently it appeared he was trying to marshal support within Parliament to arrange for the sex case, at least, to be taken away from the Milan court and put before a special tribunal that is supposed to judge Cabinet ministers, which would probably throw it out.

Berlusconi is currently a defendant in four separate judicial proceedings. A trial for alleged tax fraud on the sale of film rights by Berlusconi's Mediaset empire on Monday but the premier did not attend. However, Berlusconi's lawyer said the premier would probably show up for the next hearing on April 11.

This trial, and two other trials on corruption charges, had been put aside after the Berlusconi parliamentary majority last year pushed through a sort of judicial shield bill for the country's top leaders, but were returned to the courtroom calendar after a ruling in January by the Constitutional Court that said the premier had to negotiate, case by case, as to whether he had a "legitimate impediment" that would keep him from appearing in court.

The other two corruption trials are one in which the premier is accused of paying British tax lawyer David Mills, who has already been convicted on related charges, for giving false witness. is set to restart on March 11. The third corruption trial, into alleged film-sale tax irregularities by a Mediaset unit, Mediatrade, was recently postponed from March 5th to March 28th, while a fourth trial, for his alleged relations with an underage prostitute named Ruby, is on the docket for April 6.

The indictment for the sex trial on February 15, came after weeks of wiretap leaks that engrossed the nation. Berlusconi, who has repeatedly vowed to press on until the end of his term in office in 2013, has claimed the Milan prosecutors are trying to oust him from office and he has announced judicial reforms to rein them in. One of the charges in the Ruby case is that Berlusconi abused his position of power to get Karima El Mahroug, the teenage Moroccan dancer and runaway, out of police custody by saying she was the niece of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

He has said he acted in good faith to avoid a diplomatic incident and believed what he had been told. Berlusconi's lawyer says he will call Ruby to the witness stand because of "contradictions" in her statements to police.Both Berlusconi and Ruby deny ever having sex and she says money she received from him was a gift. But in wiretapped telephone calls she can be heard saying, alternatively, either that she did have sex with him or that he had paid her to even pretend to be crazy so as not to implicate him.

Italy to celebrate 150th anniversary - but not all approve PDF Print E-mail
Feb 21, 2011 at 06:30 PM
Image After weeks of to-ing and fro-ing, the Italian government has finally decided to declare March 17th an official holiday to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Italian unity which falls this year. But the issue is still fraught with controversy and dissent. Several members of the government say that giving Italians another day off in a time of economic crisis makes no sense, especially as the festivities will also leave a dent in the Italian budget. Most have come round to supporting the Cabinet's decision but not the ministers who belong to the autonomist Northern League.

Italy declares "humanitarian emergency" PDF Print E-mail
Feb 13, 2011 at 10:34 PM
Tunisians arriving en masse
Italy has declared a state of "humanitarian emergency" following the almost unprecedented arrival-en-masse of some 4000 North African (mostly Tunisian) refugees in only a four-day span of time. The refugees docked at the island of Lampedusa where the refugee center was closed, forcing Italian local residents to pitch in with food and beds and leading government authorities to transfer at at least half of the new arrivals to Crotone in Calabria

The arrivals of economic refugees from other Mediterranean countries declined to it's lowest level in years in 2009 thanks for largely to a controversial 'push-back' agreement deal with Libya. And an enormous wave of Albanian migrants in the early 1990s ended when the two governments worked out an Itaian aid package that helped to create jobs for Albanians - at home.

But it looks as if the confusion in Tunisia following the successful revolt last month against dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali may have led to a new exodus. Italian authorities are worried that the same thing may happen following the removal from office of Eyptian ruler Hosni Mubarek last week and new political disturbances in Algeria.

"There is the risk of a humanitarian emergency in Southern Italy," Italian interior minister Roberto Maroni said after a boat with 181 Tunisian migrants including 16 minors was rescued off Lampedusa on Thusday.
Maroni on Friday wrote to the European Union urging it to help tackle the new outpouring of migrants from North Africa.

"The crisis in North African countries and the impact on immigration and Europe's internal security," must be addressed, he said.

Maroni is particularly worried that escapees from Tunisia's jails after last month's ouster Ben Ali may swell the ranks of terrorists coming to Europe, although one would think that political prisoners released form Tunisian jails would be delighted to remain at home where a new government has taken office.

"We are very worried about the flight of criminals from prisons in Tunisia because of the risk of terrorist infiltration among the Tunisians who want to come to Europe in the guise of political refugees," Maroni said.

He said Italy had "proof" of the phenomenon and had raised its guard on crossings from Tunisia.

Maroni also said the Italian government had been in touch with the new Tunisian authorities "to put together the best possible strategies" to weed out terrorists from bona fide asylum seekers.

EDITORIAL: The man has got to go! PDF Print E-mail
Jan 23, 2011 at 09:53 PM
One out of two Italians think Silvio Berlusconi should resign from office, according to the most recent public opinion study carried out by one of Italy's best known analysts, Renato Mannheimer. Unfortunately, this feeling by half the country seems unlikely to have any real impact on it's short-term political future. His party's popularity remains more or less stable at 30%, that of its major ally, the Northern League, remains at 10 to 11 % of the electorate while the biggest opposition party, the PD doesn't seem likely - in a new election - to poll more than 25% of the vote.

The fact is that for my taste there are still far too many people in this country who appear unfazed by the charges of misbehaviour by the prime minister involving a young woman who attended his parties while underage and with whom he may have had sexual relations. These people - who would appear to include a goodly number of people who generally vote on the Left - either are convinced that Berlusconi is right when he claims to be the victim of a plot to remove him from office by leftwing magistrates and their supporters (almost a coup d'etat, he charged the other day in a taped video message) or, alternatively, believe his behaviour shows that he is "a real man".

All this doesn't really surprise me because it has long been clear to me that ethical standards in Italy are sorely lacking and that many people simply do not understand what the limits on power are, or should be. This is why an overwhelming majority of Italians were never bothered by the conflict of interest - his ownership of a significant segment of Italian media - that accompanied Berlusconi's rise to power 15 years ago and why they fail to appreciate the abuse of power that he carried out when, following the arrest of the girl on robbery charges, he telephoned police officials and asked them to ignore the procedure involving minors without families and to release her into the hands of a female city councillor who may herself have ambiguous relations with him. It should also be noted that he lied to the police, saying the girl - who is Moroccan - was a close relative of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarek.

Berlusconi clearly has no clue as to what it means to be prime minister in a Western democracy. Not only is he refusing to appear before the magistrates, as if he were not subject to the same laws as ordinary Italians. But in true "peronista" style, he keeps blathering on that he was "elected by the people" and that only " the people" can remove him. This is ridiculous because he was not elected by "the people". Italy does not have a presidential system such as that which exists in the United States; it is a parliamentary democracy which means that a person becomes premier or prime minister only because he or she is the head of the party that has won at the polls. This is not semantics; it is a real difference. Berlusconi, instead, seems to think he is Louis the XIVth.

According to Manheimer's research, the voters of the People's Freedom Party headed by Berlusconi still appear convinced that Mr. B. is their natural leader although they might also be willing to vote for the party if he were replaced by another of the party's leaders. And should Berlusconi resign and new elections be called, the opposition is probably too deeply divided to keep him - oh shame - from returning to office. 

I have lived in Italy for 35 years and I have never seen such a degrading spectacle before. And although I am a convinced secularist, the only hope I have for change is that the Italian church, which has already made its dismay clear, can convinced enough of this country's Catholics - even though very few of them are true, practicing Catholics - that enough is enough and that for the sake of their country - not to mention it's reputation abroad - the man must step down. This week, the Italian Bishops conference addressed the issue and decried the lack of morals in Italy's ruling class and said that Italians were disoriented by recent events. He also quoted Article 54 of the Italian Constitution which calls on public figures in Italy to carry out their duties with "discipline and honor".
I did not have sexual relations with that woman! PDF Print E-mail
Jan 17, 2011 at 12:43 PM
Here we go again!
It was with those words that then president Bill Clinton on January 26, 1998, consigned to history one of the biggest lies in the history of modern media. Now, 12 years later, is Silvio Berlusconi giving a repeat performance? Ï have never paid a woman for sex in my life, not even once", the Italian prime minister said yesterday on the eve of a new judicial investigation into his relations with a Moroccan showgirl  (call girl? party girl?) who at the time was only 17.


Italian haves and have-nots PDF Print E-mail
Dec 20, 2010 at 05:31 PM
Image  So just in case anyone out there thought this was an egalitarian society, here's the truth according to the latest figures released by the Bank of Italy. About 45% of Italian wealth is in the hands of ten percent of Italy's families while the poorer families in this country, even when taken all together can boast only of owning ten percent of Italia Inc.

However, in comparison with the rest of the world, Italy is in a very good place, being firmly ensconced in the top ten of the world's countries in terms of pro-capita GNP.

In other words, 60% of Italian households are better off than 90% of the world's households. And even right here in Europe, Italian families are doing pretty well in the sense that they have fewer debts than families elsewhere. At the end of 2008, the indebtedness of the average Italian family (or household) stood at 78% of gross available income compared to 100% in France and Germany and 130% of Japan and the U.S.

Furthermore, 41% of household indebtedness represented mortgage charges. Real estate continues to represent the major form of private investment in Italy, with real estate owned by Italian households amounting to about 4,800billion euros, or an average of about 200,000 euros per family.

B-Day countdown (again) PDF Print E-mail
Dec 13, 2010 at 06:36 PM


Late last summer, Italian politicians spent over a month speculating on the outcome of a vote of confidence that Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi had scheduled for September 29th, with opposition parties on both the right and the left accusing him of trying to "buy" votes from MPs in other parties, and erroneously, as it turned out, predicting that his days were numbered.

For the last month, Italian politicians (and Italian newspapers and TV stations) have spent their time (the parliament, quite amazingly, was even closed for the run-up to the vote), speculating on the outcome of a vote of no-confidence that was set for December 14, with opposition parties on both the right and the left accusing Berlusconi of trying to "buy" votes from MPs in other parties (this time, a formal complaint by one party leader has led to a judicial investigation into the matter) and predicting - depending on the day and the hour - that Berlusconi is finished.

Two no-confidence motions were originally signed by 312 MPs and day after day, newspapers have gone to press with lists of those in favour, those opposed, those wavering, those likely to miss the vote because about to have a baby, those jumping ship, those jumping back, those purportedly having taken bribes.....and on and on and on.

I have no idea what will happen tomorrow, although it wouldn't surprise me if Mr. B once again managed to obtain the requisite number of votes to remain in power, for a few weeks at least. But does it matter? Ever since last July when - after months of bickering - Berlusconi was deserted by his former ally, Gianfranco Fini, it has been clear that there is no chance of stability in the near future if the TV and real estate magnate remains at the helm.  And no stability means no effective government, which means it did not come as a surprise to anyone to recently that no more than a dozen new laws have been promulgated in Italy over the course of the last year.

The question now is not whether or not Mr. B. manages to win more than 314 votes tomorrow but whether he will - sooner rather than later - agree to step aside for a compromise candidate capable of heading a non-political government for the foreseeable future, or whether he will push things to what is probably their logical conclusion: new elections in March or April. With no really credible opposition leader to challenge him, Berlusconi, the consummate politician, will win again. And then, once again, he will be unable to govern effectively which is the only thing, boys and girls, which Italy really needs.

Hard to believe but Italian film director’s suicide stirs parliamentary controversy PDF Print E-mail
Dec 04, 2010 at 07:15 PM

Mario Monicelli Venice Film Festiva 2009
If there were a heaven, there is no doubt in my mind that film director Mario Monicelli, who committed suicide Monday at the age of 95, would either be very pissed off or convulsed with laughter - or both.. And he'd probably be writing a new screenplay to poke fun at this very silly country, and its even sillier parliament which for some bizarre reason reacted to Monicelli's death by arguing about euthanasia, which in this case is totally irrelevant.

Catfight in the Italian parliament? PDF Print E-mail
Nov 24, 2010 at 08:07 PM

Carfagna vs. Mussolini

Well, I am exaggerating. Sort of. They didn't come to blows but this week news reports here were full of an almost violent verbal altercation between two Neapolitan women politicians, Mara Carfagna, minister of Equal Opportunity in the Berlusconi cabinet, and Alessandra Mussolini, an MP who not to long ago transferred her political affections from a far right party to Berlusconi's PdL.

It all started - on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Italian Parliament --when the somewhat blowsy Mussolini (a granddaughter of Italy's inter-war dictator, a former model and would-be actress and niece of actress Sophia Loren) used her cell phone to take a photo of Carfagna, also a former model and showgirl, while she was engrossed in conversation with Italo Bocchino, a close friend of hers who is a top leader of the new party recently formed by Berlusconi's rival, Gianfranco Fini. "Vergogna! (Shame!), Traitor!", Mussolini reportedly screamed across the chamber, apparently assuming that Carfagna was planning to jump ship.

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