Berlusconi vote-buying trial asked amid eye test rage
'Persecution' claims rise, PdL threatens to boycott parliament11 March, 18:36
(ANSA) - Rome, March 11 - Silvio Berlusconi's legal woes returned to the fore Monday as Naples prosecutors requested his indictment for allegedly paying a Senator to switch sides, while his supporters angrily demonstrated outside a court in Milan against a court-ordered check that an eye problem really justified his not attending a sex trial.
In Naples prosecutors requested Berlusconi be immediately sent to trial on charges of corruption over Senator Sergio De Gregorio's change of political colours. De Gregorio has claimed Berlusconi paid him three million euros to defect from the centre left during Roman Prodi's 2006-2008 government.
The case last week sparked fresh claims Berlusconi is being hounded by prosecutors, but it was the Milan eye-test, at the request of the sex-trial prosecutors, which stoked the rage of his People of Freedom (PdL) party to a new high.
The prosecutors, for the second time, successfully asked judges to send medical inspectors to check on Berlusconi's condition after the hospitalised ex-premier failed to attend a hearing of a trial into allegations he paid to have sex with an underaged prostitute.
The prosecutors also requested a check on Friday, when the trial was adjourned after the 76-year-old media magnate was taken into Milan's San Raffaele hospital with uveitis, an irritation and swelling of the uvea, the middle layer of the eye. In the end, as on Friday, the judges granted the ex-premier's plea that the eye problem was a legitimate impediment to his attending. In the trial, Berlusconi is charged with paying a 17-year-old Moroccan night-club dancer called Ruby for sex and then abusing his position by later springing her from police custody to avoid a diplomatic incident because he believed she was then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's niece.
The trial, in which Berlusconi faces a 15-year jail term if convicted on both counts, was adjourned to Wednesday.
Despite the rejection of the prosecutors' hospital inspection request, PdL members went ahead with a demo outside the Milan court house, although Berlusconi had urged them to call it off.
MPs marched before the Milan courthouse, claiming the inspection request was "the final straw" in what they say is continuing "judiciary persecution" of Berlusconi.
The MPs, including several ex-ministers under the last Berlusconi administration, sang the national anthem, as Alessandra Mussolini - conservative MP and granddaughter of Benito Mussolini - waved an Italian flag. "We have doubts over whether there is still space for being cautious and moderate, because every limit of judicial persecution has been exceeded," said ex-education minister Maria Stella Gelmini. Gelmini added she was protesting to "defend democracy from the attempt to subvert the popular vote".
PdL secretary Angelino Alfano had ordered the demonstration despite his party leader's last-minute request for a rethink "to respect institutions".
Alfano railed against "three very serious facts" regarding judicial demands on Berlusconi and his defence lawyers. First, Berlusconi's defence lawyers, who are also PdL MPs, were not granted "legitimate impediment" from Monday's hearing in order to attend a scheduled meeting with their party colleagues. "We are parliamentarians. We represent the people. This was a meeting of constitutional importance," Alfano said.
Second, Alfano was furious that the judges had sent a team of three doctors to determine whether the eye infection was serious enough to keep the ex-premier from court. Alfano found the inspection "scandalous and not worthy of a judiciary functioning in a civil country", while a PdL representative for the Puglia region, Francesco Amoroso, complained in a note that Berlusconi "doesn't even have the right to get sick" and called for action against the "persecution".
Alfano's third complaint concerned the De Gregorio indictment request. The PdL secretary declared his trust that Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, who has agreed to talk to the PdL Tuesday, would help mitigate the alleged persecution, also in his position as titular head of the judiciary's self-governing body.
Alfano threatened to boycott the first sessions of the newly elected parliament if their complaints are not resolved.