At a rally in his support last night in Rome, Italian Senator Silvio Berlusconi asserted his innocence following his definitive conviction for tax evasion, and pledged the continuing support of the PDL party to the PD led coalition government of Premier Enrico Letta. The demonstration, which was attended by an estimated 2,000 people, was held in front of Berlusconi’s home.
Of his criminal case, Berlusconi, who has seen his share of criminal prosecutions over the last 20 years; but has previously always won them on appeal or had the statute of limitations expire on the charges, said that the decision of the magistrates was irresponsible. He has been sentenced to four years in prison; but because of a law to diminish prison overcrowding, that term has been reduced to one year. Furthermore, because he is 76 years old, Berlusconi is unlikely to go to prison; but will probably be placed under house arrest or have to do community service. Berlusconi has another conviction in the “Rubygate” sex scandal case, which he is appealing, and another 3 trials pending.
The tax evasion case concerned the broadcasting of American movies through Berlusconi’s Mediaset networks after buying the rights to them at prices inflated through offshore companies and misreporting the amounts paid. The “Rubygate” case, which is being appealed, and would carry a harsher sentence, mainly deals with prostitution with a minor.
The latest conviction carries with it a temporary ban from politics, although the conditions of the ban remain to be decided, which could could take months. In the meantime, members of the opposition have asked Berlusconi to step down from his post. If the conviction he is currently appealing is upheld, Berlusconi would face a permanent ban from office.
After Berlusconi’s conviction, members of the PLD party offered to resign and asked President Giorgio Napolitano to pardon Berlusconi; but it is unlikely this will happen, and some have questioned whether it would even be constitutional.
Besides the issue of his innocence or lack thereof, the PLD-PD coalition government, forged to address Italy’s dire economic situation, is starting to see division within its ranks. Of that issue, Berlusconi said “I can promise you, here I am. I am staying here. I won’t surrender.” He added that “We have said loud and clear that the government must continue to approve the economic measures that we have asked for and that have been agreed” Letta, after watching the speech on television expressed hope that the pledge of support would translate into votes for a proposed economic package. Currently the unemployment rate in Italy is 12 percent, and its national debt is second only to that of Greece.
Despite the pledge of support, some within the PD feel that it would be wise to step away from the stigma of Berlusconi’s conviction, and even his own party is starting to see signs of division, which does not bode well for the coalition. However, for the moment, investors’ concerns over the fate of the coalition seem to have been allayed, and Italian bonds rose this morning.
By Milton Ruiz