Berlusconi and the blackmail of a nation

Vote me out of jail, or I will bring the country down with me. This is the message Il Cavaliere has just sent to the Italian government, ahead of a Senate decision on whether he will lose his seat after being convicted of tax fraud. Such blackmail speaks volumes about the state of Italy in 2013, says British writer Tim Parks.

Published on 6 September 2013 at 12:01

After a dozen trials, many of which have gone through all three levels of Italian justice (primary trial, appeal, counter appeal), after making ad personam laws to have his crimes de-penalised, or using delaying tactics to have trials thrown out because the crimes alleged in them are time-barred, or facing guilty verdicts at one level and acquittals at another, former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has finally received a definitive and unappealable criminal sentence at the highest level, for tax fraud.

Sentenced to four years in prison, he has benefited from a pardon aimed at emptying the country’s jails, which has reduced the sentence to one year—this despite the fact that, being over seventy, he will be allowed to serve his sentence at one of his various luxury homes. However, as an elected member of the senate, he enjoys immunity from arrest and cannot be forced into confinement until the senate approves his expulsion, a vote that could take place in September. He has now made it clear that if that vote goes against him he will bring the whole house down.

That Berlusconi can indeed cause havoc is evident. He runs, in a sense owns, one of the two large parties in the present coalition government, which is struggling to introduce major reforms to stop the now dramatic decline in the Italian economy and finally inspire some confidence among foreign investors. If Berlusconi withdraws his party from the coalition, as he has threatened, it seems unlikely that another government could be formed with the present hung parliament.

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