Silvio Berlusconi, the invincible, the unsinkable

Politician and businessman Silvio Berlusconi once again is at the epicenter of a judicial scandal. He is facing a prison sentence and is accused of affairs with underage girls. However, in Italy few people believe in the fairness of the law. Everyone knows that the former Prime Minister Berlusconi has been around and is not that easy to catch.

On October 26th, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was sentenced to one year in prison for various kinds of financial fraud, as well as a fine of 10 million euros. Initially, he was sentenced to four years, but due to the amnesty, this period was reduced to one year. Berlusconi, as expected, did not agree with the verdict and turned his wrath to the "politicized" court and the European officials, in particular, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel.

Berlusconi accused them of trying to discredit his political image in the world, but did not specify how exactly he was discredited. Is a verdict the end of Berlusconi as a politician, or a reason for the former Prime Minister to become involved in the political life in Italy once again?

The most significant charge against Silvio Berlusconi is tax evasion as part of Mediaset, the media corporation founded by Berlusconi. For nearly 20 years the officials have been trying to charge Berlusconi for financial fraud. He was involved in over two dozen cases and trials, but each time he managed to get away.

Berlusconi and other defendants in the case, including his son, Pierre, who was justified in June, were accused of tax fraud when purchasing TV rights by companies RTI and Mediatrade, part of Mediaset. The companies acquired the rights to broadcast U.S. movies at inflated prices, and the difference between the real and inflated price settled in the bank accounts in the Bahamas and Switzerland. Shadow financial funds were created and large sums of money were laundered.

The investigation of the case began approximately six years ago. The grounds for legal action were the raids of the offices of RTI and Mediatrade in Milan in 2005, as well as a number of documents seized in Switzerland. According to the investigation, illegal financial operations were conducted from 2000 to 2005, and tax violations continued until 2009. Berlusconi and his associates are accused of embezzling nearly $34 million, and the leadership of Mediaset is accused of tax evasion in the amount of approximately 8 million euros and forgery of financial documents.

Mediaset is not the only legal case against former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Another case with the involvement of Berlusconi is the case of 16-year-old Moroccan Ruby where Berlusconi is accused of sexual harassment involving a minor. The politician has denied the accuslation in court. According to him, he had not been involved in any sex scandals with minors. A year ago, during the hearing of the case, Ruby's blog surfaced, in which she described what happened at Berlusconi's villa. According to her, she met him 13 times, and during her visits she received money and jewelry from Berlusconi. There were other girls at the villa. They lived in special homes and were delivered to the villa of the Premiere upon his request.

In 2011, Berlusconi managed to escape punishment, but it is unclear whether he will be able to do it this time. For nearly the entire duration of political and economic career of Silvio Berlusconi he was regularly accused of various financial frauds and collaboration with the mafia. In 2009, Berlusconi was accused of corruption. He allegedly gave a bribe of 600 thousand to lawyer David Mills from the UK to make him keep silence about the offshore operations of the Italian Prime Minister. At the same time, Il Giornale, owned by Berlusconi's brother, wrote about Silvio's ties with the Mafia. In particular, they wrote that his publishing company Mandadori was partially funded by the mafia's money.

In addition, Berlusconi's wife Veronica Lario, who accused Silvio of numerous infidelities, demanded payments of 40 million annually. Prior to that, the entire country was exposed to the facts of Silvio Berlusconi's sexual adventures with young women. Despite all court proceedings and financial and personal problems, Berlusconi's approval rating has never dropped below 60 percent. Quite the contrary - both then and now Berlusconi remains an unsinkable politician and talented businessman, whose reputation cannot be ruined by any kind of questionable scandals. It seems that this time Silvio will manage to escape punishment yet again. 

Most experts say that this time Silvio Berlusconi will avoid jail time. The Italian journalist Mark Franchetti believes that the former Prime Minister will not go to jail because of the length and tardiness of the Italian justice. He can appeal twice, and consideration of an appeal in Italy can be a very lengthy procedure. In addition, according to Franchetti, Berlusconi will hint that all the indictments are a conspiracy against him personally. In fact, this is already happening - Berlusconi blames everyone and everything: the current head of state Mario Monti and even heads of the neighboring countries. The Time magazine agrees with the expert. The magazine wrote that Silvio Berlusconi's sentence may enter into force only after consideration of all appeals, and the statute of limitations will expire before that happens, and Berlusconi will not be imprisoned.

The statute of limitations expires in 2014. Given the tardiness of the Italian justice on the one hand and the ability of Berlusconi to find a way out of the most confusing and difficult situations, there is almost no time left. Berlusconi, as one would expect, is outraged with the sentence. This is understandable, because the Italian Themis has never before managed to inflict such a heavy blow to the Prime Minister. But everything happens for the first time at some point. However, Berlusconi has no intention of giving up. At a press conference he said that he no longer needed to be Prime Minister, but he would remain in politics and continue to work for the good of Italy, and will be engaged in the activities of his party "People of Freedom". What will be the effect of Berlusconi's verdict on the political life in Italy and the political future of the unsinkable Silvio?

Many experts say that the unexpected verdict for Silvio Berlusconi will not affect his political future. Even before its announcement Berlusconi declined the opportunity to regain the post of Prime Minister of Italy. French Le Monde says that Berlusconi may be ready to leave politics. He agreed to the primaries in his party "People of Freedom" to enable the members of the party to select a worthy successor to him. In exchange, he may require some economic or political guarantees.

It is interesting how the actions of Berlusconi and his party will influence further political situation in Italy. Earlier, Berlusconi backed the cabinet of Mario Monti and his desire to deal with the economic situation in the country, but it seems that after the verdict Berlusconi's priorities have changed. Now Berlusconi accuses the coalition government of leading Italy to a deep economic recession, and states that the party "People of Freedom" may reconsider their attitude towards the coalition government. If Berlusconi denies government his support, most likely, the government will be dissolved and new early parliamentary elections will be announced, because Mario Monti will not have the majority in the Parliament without the party of the former Prime Minister.

Roberto D'Alimonte, professor of political science at LUISS University, believes that in this case in the upcoming parliamentary elections Berlusconi is unlikely to win, but his party, by criticizing the current government of Italy leading the country into further economic crisis, can get a significant number of seats in the Parliament. Either way, it will benefit Berlusconi. Why would he want to be Prime Minister at the times disadvantageous for Italy when he can retain his political influence with less responsibility?

However, the trials of Silvio Berlusconi are not over yet. Despite the fact that he is unlikely to go to jail on charges of financial fraud, he can expect a real term for sexual harassment. However, apparently, few people in Italy and abroad believe that 76-year-old Berlusconi with his money and political influence will spend a day in prison.

There is little doubt in Italy that Berlusconi is far from being an angel. Multiple sex scandals, investigative journalism and his photos on a luxury villa surrounded by many women, including minors, do not happen in a vacuum. It is unlikely that he is innocent in cases involving the Mafia. Berlusconi, as one of the most powerful and at the same time, scandalous politicians and one of the richest men in Italy, cannot stay out of the spotlight of the ubiquitous Italian mafia, they simply would not have missed the opportunities.

Yet, all this is of little to no importance to the Italian judicial system. Berlusconi has been able to get out of sticky situations until now, perhaps not without the influence and support of the very mafia that needs him.

Sergei Vasilenkov


Read the original in Russian

Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov