Senate panel reconvenes to rule on Berlusconi-ejection vote
Meeting adjourned Tuesday amid row over corruption law30 October, 17:05
(ANSA) - Rome, October 30 - A Senate panel reconvened on Wednesday to decide the date of a floor vote on ejecting ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi after a tax-fraud conviction and whether the vote should be secret, as current rules dictate, or open.
A meeting of the panel on Tuesday was adjourned after a row over whether a 2012 anti-corruption law can be applied in this case for the three-time Italian premier to be stripped of his seat in parliament.
Berlusconi, leader of the centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) party, has been expected to face automatic expulsion because there is a majority, led by the PdL's uneasy government partner, Premier Enrico Letta's Democratic Party (PD), in favour of applying the anti-corruption law.
Also firmly in favour of removing the media magnate are the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement led by ex-comedian Beppe Grillo.
PD and M5S votes would be enough to strip Berlusconi of his seat and expose him to possible arrests in other cases ranging from paying for sex with an underage prostitute and publishing an illegal wiretap. But fears have been raised that some PD and M5S members, along with enough centrists, would take advantage of the secrecy of the ballot to save Berlusconi from expulsion.
The PD has been pressing for the vote to be open to avoid possible 'sniping' such as that which sank ex-premier Romano Prodi's bid to become president after February's inconclusive elections, where the PD came first, the PdL a narrow second, and M5S third.
They have cited occasions in the past when the secret-vote rule has been overturned, including when late statesman Giulio Andreotti's ejection on Mafia charges was turned down.
But the PdL has said changing the rules for one individual would be "an affront to parliamentary practice".
The key decision on the secrecy of the vote - which needs an application from 20 Senators to be admitted - was expected to emerge Tuesday but the panel became bogged down in examining the implications of a recent appeals court ruling cutting Berlusconi's August 1 ban from office from five years to two.
The PdL latched on to the appeals court's citing the offence against the 2012 anti-corruption law as merely "administrative" to bolster its argument that the law is being applied retroactively in Berlusconi's case and therefore arguably against the Italian Constitution.
The PD insists this is not the case and has rejected PdL claims that the Constitutional Court must examine the law.
The interpretation of the appeals court explanation and other procedural niceties and legal minutiae kept the panel from deciding the issue or setting a date for the vote.
An M5S motion to hold the Senate floor vote on November 5 was rejected. Press reports have predicted a mid-November vote.
On Tuesday Berlusconi was reported to have said it would be a "stain on Italian democracy" if he were ejected from the Senate after the supreme court ruling.
"The vote to have me ejected from parliament would be a stain on Italian democracy destined to remain in the history books," Berlusconi said in excerpts of an interview from a new book by Italian broadcast journalist Bruno Vespa.
In the interview, Berlusconi called on Premier Enrico Letta, whose executive relies on the support of the 77-year-old's centre-right party, to intervene. "If the government wanted, it would have a highway to solving the problem," Berlusconi said.
"A justice bill is open for amendment and all it would take is a one-line interpretation measure that says the anti-corruption law does not apply to the past. Letta should say yes or no".
Letta replied that the result of a confidence vote at the start of this month, when a bid by Berlusconi to withdraw the PdL's support for the executive and sink it was scuppered by a mutiny by pro-government party members, showed that the fate of the administration and the 77-year-old's legal problems were separate. The supreme court's ruling on the tax fraud case came in August, long after the 2012 corruption law came into force, but the original conviction predates it.
The explanation of the Milan appeals court ban-cutting sentence, issued Tuesday, stirred a customary storm of invective from PdL members who staunchly agree with their leader that he has been the victim of leftwing magistrates since he entered the political arena 20 years ago.
The explanation said Berlusconi showed "particular intensity of misconduct" in the "crime he was accused of and in his persistence in it". In August the supreme Court of Cassation upheld a four-year prison sentence against the 77-year-old for tax fraud on film rights by his Mediaset broadcasting empire.
Three years of the sentence were commuted due to an amnesty and the 77-year-old ex-premier has to do the remaining year by performing community service as he is too old to actually go to jail.
The supreme court sent the five-year ban on office back to the appeals level to be re-calculated and a Milan court reduced it to two years this month. The Milan appeals court said the fraud committed by Berlusconi was more serious "because of the role publicly adopted by the accused, above all that of a politician, worsens the assessment of his conduct". The explanation added that the supreme court ruling established that Berlusconi was the architect of a system that used offshore companies to collect funds and dodge taxes. It added that there was "no proof" Berlusconi had settled his debt with the Italian tax authorities. "The judicial persecution against our leader continues unabated, with a timing and speed so incredible, they are unheard of in the Italian justice system", said PdL Senate Whip Renato Schifani. "