Boy, is old Silvio Berlusconi unhappy today. Fuming like his fake volcano in Sardinia, he is. An appeal court, in, according to Berlusconi and his cronies, communist infested Milan, confirmed a lower court’s decision that he is guilty of tax fraud in connection with the trading of TV rights to US movies.
This confirmation means that the 4 year sentence Berlusconi received from the initial hearing stands, even if the actual sentence would be reduced to 1 year, or 3 years, according to a 2006 law mentioned by Italian news website Linkiesta. Regardless, Italy, generally, does not imprison its over 70s.
What is potentially more damaging for Berlusconi is that if the conviction is confirmed after the third and final appeal stage, the tanned media mogul will be forbidden from holding public office for 5 years, which may only be 2 in practice, and not be allowed to direct a company for 3. Berlusconi, along with three other defendants, has been ordered to pay Italy’s taxman around €10 million.
If the final appeal court, and this is a very big if, confirms the guilty verdict, Berlusconi’s political career will just about come to an end. He could bounce back as an active octogenarian politician, though.
In theory, and as happened in late 2012, enraged Berlusconi could now bring down Italy’s fledgling new government. It was Berlusconi’s legal tangles which more or less led to the collapse of the Mario Monti led government. Italy’s economic situation has worsened since then, so toppling the current government would not be too responsible, especially as the main reason for doing so would be to help Berlusconi save his own skin.
For now, Berlusconi says he’s not going to bring down Italy’s government – but that could change in the next five minutes.
Natural Born Delinquent
Denting Berlusconi’s reputation a little further, the appeal court agreed with the lower court’s assessment that Berlusconi is a natural born delinquent. In both courts’ opinions, it was Berlusconi himself who masterminded the complex web of TV rights transactions designed to hide income from Italy’s taxman.
Berlusconi has always denied being guilty of tax evasion, although the findings of the two courts appear to contradict the Teflon tycoon’s own self-assessment.
In Berlusconi’s eyes, in relation to his overall income, the tax he has evaded amounts to a mere drop in the ocean, which, in his lawyer’s esteemed opinions, means he should have little to answer for. Yes, the logic is very odd, but very Italian too. Even in Italy, any amount of tax evasion is a crime. The law does not differentiate between a lot of evasion and a little evasion, as far as I know. Nor does it take account of the status of the evader, at least not directly.
In Italy, evade €20 million, and you can probably make a deal to pay back €10 million. But if you get caught evading a mere €1000, you may very well end up forking out €3,000. Not too just, is it? All are supposedly equal in the eyes of the law in Italy too.
Not Prosecution, but Persecution
Members of the Berlusconi fan club, otherwise known as the PdL party, jumped to the defense of their benefactor, er sorry, leader. The prosecution by the Milan courts is persecution, the mob yelled in unison. Correction: most of Berlusconi most loyal loyalists are as enraged as the tanned one with the sentence. Some lesser members of the Berlusconi fan club PdL party don’t want him to use the incident to cause the current government to fall, or so tonight’s TV news reported.
Now the case will go before Italy’s highest court – the Court of Cassation in Rome, where politicians like Berlusconi have lots of friends. If key people are not too friendly, a little palm greasing plus a dash of blackmail will probably be applied to strengthen the bond of friendship.
Laws in Italy tend to be poorly drafted, ambiguous, and horrendously complex, so a ‘technicality’ revealed by the Court of Cassation, or by Berlusconi’s ingenious legal team, could well save his legal bacon.
Conveniently, one of Berlusconi’s men now leads a parliamentary commission on justice, so a tailor-made save Silvio bill may be on the cards, even if the 5 Star Movement would do all in their power to block such a proposal.
If the Rome court upholds the Milan court conviction, it will come as a huge surprise to most Italians, I’m sure. It will also come as an enormous surprise to this Italy watcher too.
Note: Italy Chronicles may earn an affiliate commission if you purchase something through links in articles on this website. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.