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Interpreting Total Berlusconi Uncertainty

The battle to save Silvio Berlusconi from having to bow out of what passes for politics in Italy rages on. Convict Berlusconi is not going to go quietly, and may not actually go at all. He may even bring down Italy’s unholy coalition government, out of spite more than anything else.

Is Berlusconi really on his way out? Who knows. This is Italy and strange things happen in what is a truly Machiavellian nation.

Adding to the confusion is confusing Italian law. Depending on which publication one reads, Berlusconi is finished and will soon face a ban from public office, or, Berlusconi will be back to lead his party.

The ban Berlusconi faces seems to range from between 3 to 6 years. One court did sentence Berlusconi to a 5 year ban, but this decision was quashed by Italy’s supreme court after it noted that Italy’s laws only provided for a maximum ban of 3 years. Why the lower court decided the ban should be for 5 years is unclear. Even supposed experts on Italian law have enormous difficulty understanding Italy’s many, many laws, it seems.

Indeed, interpreting Italy’s laws is not for the faint of heart. One could consult a lawyer or three and end up with three differing interpretations. Berlusconi’s lawyers seem to believe a way can be found round the ban, whereas others claim the law is crystal clear. If only.

The Maybe Ban

If a ban ever materializes, it may be two fold: Berlusconi might be declared unfit to hold public office, and/or, he may be declared ineligible to stand for election which, to all intents and purposes would ensure Berlusconi cannot be a member of Italy’s parliament – a form of public office.

The law which introduced the ineligibility rules is quite recent and was introduced during the reign of Mario Monti’s technocrat government by former Italian justice minister Paola Severino, who is a lawyer and supposedly an expert legal eagle too. The Severino law does seem to be clear: receive a sentence of more than 2 years for a crime, and you are automatically ineligible to stand for election. Silvio Berlusconi received a 4 year sentence for tax fraud, reduced to 1 year, though it is the 4 year sentence which counts, so, he’s technically ineligible to stand for election for a 6 year period.

Berlusconi’s lawyers don’t agree with the Severino law ineligibility and are making noises about challenging the constitutional validity of the law. Whether this challenge, if it happens, will succeed, is anyone’s guess. In Italy, unusual interpretations of the nation’s laws are not uncommon, and a little palm greasing may take place to ensure the interpretation is favorable. Incidentally, Berlusconi has been accused of bribing judges before.

The Presidential Position

Aside from legal challenges and attempts to fathom out just what Italy’s laws mean, Italy’s President Napolitano, who seems to want to save Italy’s present non-government at all costs, could pardon Berlusconi. On what grounds such a pardon would be issued is, like Italy’s laws, rather opaque.

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Apparently, before a pardon can be issued, Berlusconi would have to admit to his tax fraud crime, only he’s rather reluctant to do this and has been making an enormous amount of public fuss claiming he’s as innocent as a new born lamb. Italy’s courts, on the other hand, seem to regard Silvio Berlusconi as a natural born delinquent.

Banned, ineligible, pardoned, required to do community service, or imprisoned are just some of the many options. Yes, Berlusconi could be slung in jail. Although President Napolitano says this will not happen, Italy can, and has, put old men, such as Calisto Tanzi, in prison for white-collar crimes before. Berlusconi, and his lawyers, will be aware of this, but at the end of the day, it’ll all be down to interpretation.

What next? Nobody really knows. The court is still out on that one and is still trying its level best to understand Italy’s laws – laws which were passed by Berlusconi’s PdL party, and his lawyers, two of whom, coincidentally, are PDL parliamentarians, so they may have had a hand in creating a law which appears to be protecting their client. Long term planning?

Berlusconi’s Legal Woes Not Over

By the way, Berlusconi’s legal woes are far from over. Other convictions may be incoming. Italians are curious to know just how many Berlusconi-friendly pardons will be issued, that’s if anyone can understand the law surrounding whether or not a pardon can, or can’t, be granted.

Seeing as this is Italy, a little custom law may be created to end Berlusconi’s troubles. This is something Berlusconi and Co have done before, so it may happen again.

Berlusconi’s political career may be at a swan-song stage, then again, he has a habit of rising, phoenix-like, from the ashes. The tanned man himself has vowed to keep on fighting – for the good of Italy, he claims, not that his governments really did much to benefit Italy. If anything, they reduced Italy to the state it is in now.

Had Berlusconi’s government’s track record been sparking, then a pardon may even be acceptable, but seeing as under Berlusconi’s rule levels of corruption rose considerably, pardoning someone who seems to believe corruption is good is not going to send a particularly positive message to Italians, many of whom think their political class is a disgrace.

What will be the next episode in the Berlusconi saga? Maybe a speech in parliament in which Berlusconi smiles nicely and appeals personally to everyone to let him off, or else he’ll topple the government. One Bettino Craxi made a similar speech – though did not threaten to bring down the government. A while later Craxi fled Italy. Fleeing Italy may not be an option for Berlusconi seeing as his passport has been confiscated, but one is certain Berlusconi has enough friends in dodgy places for him to end up with a forged passport.

Expect Berlusconi related sparks this September. For a guide to Berlusconi’s future prospects, visit your local bookmaker.

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