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Berlusconi conviction upheld! PDF Print E-mail
Aug 01, 2013 at 08:31 PM

Judge Antonio Esposito reading the sentence
After weeks of waiting that had brought political activity here almost to a standstill, Italy's highest court today confirmed an appeal court's conviction of Silvio Berlusconi for tax fraud and his four-year jail sentence, although the 76-year old politician and entrepreneur is not expected to go to prison but, because of his age, will most probably serve his time (three years of which will be forgiven because of a recent amnesty) under house arrest or, should he prefer,  doing socially-acceptable work for the prison system's social services department. In contrast, the court rejected a second sentence, that of a five-year interdiction from public office, and ordered a Milan appeals court to re-examine the session.

Observers said the high court's decision was a sharp blow for Berlusconi who has always bragged that despite all the trials in which he was a defendant he had never  actually been convicted of a crime. However, the ruling also means that for the time being, and unless a parliamentary commission rules against him. Berlusconi can retain his seat in the Senate and still participate, even if at a distance, in politics. What is not clear is what kind of an effect today's even will have on the stability of the current coalition government in which Berlusconi's party, the right-of-center PdL shares power with the center-left opposition, the PD.

There should, of course, be no connection whatsoever between the judicial and the political; as in most of the world's democracies, there is a clear separation of powers in Italy keeping the judicial, the executive and the legislative parts of government separate from one another. Nevertheless, some of the most radical of Berlusconi's supporters have said repeatedly that if his conviction were upheld they would resign their positions in the current cabinet and therefore bring down the government. Berlusconi himself has said this would not happen, but his words rarely can be taken to have any lasting value.

On the other hand, the re-affirmation of the sentence may also make the more anti-Berlusconi group within the PD less willing to share power with a group whose leader is a convicted tax evader. In other words, at the moment there is no way to tell what will happen and it is useless to speculate. The main problem is that Italy's drastic economic situation - sky-high unemployment, rampant business failures, growing poverty - means that more than anything it needs a working government capable of making important and possibly painful decisions.


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