Italy and its judicial system have set a precedence.
Last week former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was found guilty of tax fraud and sentenced to four-years in jail and banned from holding office for three years. However, mere hours after the initial sentence, the four-year jail sentence was reduced to one, as a result of a 2006 amnesty law aimed at reducing overcrowding in prisons. The conviction – regardless of the reduced sentence – is the conclusion of a trial that began over six years ago in July 2006, but has been dragged out because of immunity laws that were in place during Berlusconi’s time as Prime Minister.
Berlusconi, along with three others, was convicted of buying US film rights at inflated prices via two offshore companies under his control, and all four have been ordered to pay 10 million euros (£8million) in damages. Speaking on Italia 1 – one of his own TV station, Berlusconi has said of his conviction: “It is a political, incredible and intolerable judgement. It is without any doubt a political verdict just as all the cases invented against me are political.”
…it is the first time he’s been convicted…
It is not the first time Berlusconi has been in court, but it is the first time he’s been convicted. In 1994, shortly after he was first elected for president Berlusconi was accused of bribing a member of the financial police. He was sentenced to 33 months three years later in 1997 only to be acquitted in 2000 after the time limit expired. In 1997, he received a suspended sentence for false book-keeping but his conviction was reversed upon appeal. And just last February a court was forced to throw out a corruption case against Berlusconi after the statue of limitations had expired.
So while a precedence has been set with this conviction, there is also a chance here for the Italian courts to go one further and see Berlusconi actually be punished for his crimes. In doing so, it would, as the Telegraph journalist Cristina Odone points out, mean that Italians can, “finally hold their head up again: [as] the man who made fun of all the rules has been caught out.” Unfortunately it looks as though this opportunity, once again, will pass Italy by. Before the conviction can stick it has to be upheld by two courts of appeals – a process which can take years, by which time it is likely that the statue of limitations will have run out.
…convicted of over 10 years worth of jail time…
And it is not just Berlusconi who has escaped punishment. Marcello Dell’Utri, Senator for the People of Freedom political movement, has been convicted of over 10 years worth of jail time since 1999 but has never served time. It seems that in Italy, power and influence can keep you from behind bars – and that is a disturbing thought. If Berlusconi once again is not made to face up to his crimes by serving out his sentence, Italy should take a long look at how its justice system works. If a man can be on trial more than five times in a ten year period and never be punished, something needs to change.