Is Berlusconi the victim of political judges?
Ever since he entered politics in 1994, the four-times prime minister has railed against the judges, and he rounded on them again last week after the Supreme Court confirmed a one-year jail term for tax fraud, his first definitive conviction in dozens of trials.
Much of the centre-right leader’s emotional video address after the sentence was a bitter attack on “uncontrollable” magistrates who had hounded him for 20 years for political ends. On Sunday, as the 76-year-old billionaire wept at a rally of his supporters in Rome, he returned to the theme. “We must together wage this battle for democracy and freedom, to make Italy a country where people are not afraid of finding themselves in jail for no reason.”
Lawyers and judges give his accusations short shrift.
“You only have to think how many different magistrates judged him in so many different situations to say that from a statistical point of view it is impossible that they are all from the left,” said senior Milan judge Fabio Roia, member of a politically centrist magistrates’ association.
The five Supreme Court judges were politically conservative, and public prosecutor Antonello Mura has led the most right-wing magistrates’ association.
Defense lawyer Markus Wiget said that while Berlusconi’s prominence might have made him a more tempting target, political bias could not explain all his legal difficulties. Berlusconi himself listed in 2008 a toll of 577 visits by police, 2,500 court hearings and 174 million euros he had paid in lawyers’ bills.
“Berlusconi has been judged by so many magistrates and more recently the Supreme Court that it is difficult to believe that all of them were biased in analyzing these crimes,” he said. Nevertheless, the media mogul’s accusations strike a chord with many voters in a country where politics is still colored by beliefs dating back to the Cold War, when for 50 years the Christian Democrat party ruled, and the most powerful communist party in the West was in permanent opposition.
The 1992-1994 “Bribesville” investigation into massive political graft swept away that old order, including the Christian Democrats. In his address last week, Berlusconi called that probe the “abnormal action” of magistrates who had destroyed a political bulwark against communism to hand power to the left.
Ironically, he owes his rise to Bribesville, because he filled the vacuum left by the Christian Democrats. He still paints himself as an anti-communist warrior, more than 20 years after the Italian Communist Party was dissolved.
Whether or not you buy Berlusconi’s line, there is widespread agreement that Italy’s judicial system is a mess.
The system is notoriously Byzantine and subject to huge delays for both criminal and civil cases, the latter seen as a significant disincentive to foreign investment.
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