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Speaker defends Senate legal suit against Berlusconi

Ex-premier says 'another coup d'etat', Forza Italia walk out

06 February, 19:55
Speaker defends Senate legal suit against Berlusconi (By Denis Greenan).

(ANSA) - Rome, February 6 - Senate Speaker Pietro Grasso on Thursday defended his controversial decision to make the Upper House a civil plaintiff in a trial in which the ex-premier is accused of bribing a lawmaker to change political sides. Grasso said "anti-Berlusconi bias" had nothing to do with his decision, adding that he was "not a coward" as Berlusconi supporters had claimed.

"The choice was in order to give the Senate a voice in an affair we hope is untrue," he said.

The decision, which overruled the outcome of a vote by a Senate panel, caused outrage among members of Berlusconi's Forza Italia (FI) party and prompted calls for Grasso to quit.

Three-time Premier Berlusconi called the decision another in a long line of alleged "coup d'etats' against him which he says include the toppling off his last government in late 2011 and his recent expulsion from the Senate because of a tax-fraud conviction.

Irate FI lawmakers walked off the floor of the Senate as Grasso gave an address defending the decision, amid shouts of "shame, shame". Other centre right and centrist parties were also opposed to Grasso's move.

The centre right says the decision was a political move, not a legal one, against the ex-premier.

The 77-year-old billionaire media magnate continues to lead his party, which withdrew from the left-right grand coalition government in November and joined the opposition, from outside parliament.

In Thursday's vote, Premier Enrico Letta's centre-left Democratic Party (PD) which Grasso belongs to, backed making the Senate a civil plaintiff against Berlusconi along with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), but they were outvoted on the panel. "It was an unbiased decision, a choice made at my discretion on the basis of the powers given to me," said Grasso, the former national anti-mafia prosecutor, who stressed he came under no pressure from the PD.

"I acted in total autonomy and independence...There is no prejudice or persecution".

Grasso said that, while his decision was unprecedented, parliamentary rules gave him the power to "defend its image and dignity when the Senate can be considered the damaged party". He also pointed out that the floor of the Senate could vote to overturn his decision, if it wished to.

A Naples trial into allegations Berlusconi bribed former Senator Sergio De Gregorio to move from the centre left to the centre right during Romano Prodi's 2006-2008 government is set to start next Tuesday.

Prodi's 2006-2008 government fell after losing the support of the Senate, leading to new elections that Berlusconi won.

De Gregorio has told investigators he received three million euros from Berlusconi. After the tax-fraud conviction, his first definitive one in 20 years of legal battles, Berlusconi is also appealing two convictions by courts of first instance - one for paying for sex with an underage prostitute and abusing his office as premier to try to cover it up; and another for involvement in the publication of an illegal wiretap.

The ex-premier says he has been targeted by politically motivated magistrates since he entered politics in 1994.