Berlusconi faces new court date after legal defeat

The Italian Premier, Silvio Berlusconi, is set to be hauled back to court on tax evasion and bribery charges after losing the latest battle in his struggle with the country's judiciary.

The Constitutional Court in Rome decided yesterday afternoon to throw out key parts of Mr Berlusconi's latest immunity law, which shielded the 74-year-old billionaire from prosecution.

The temporary "Legitimate Impediment" legislation has allowed ministers to avoid court appearances by claiming they obstruct government business. As a result, two trials against Mr Berlusconi have been suspended.

But judges in the Constitutional Court defied the Prime Minister, as they have done on two previous occasions when scrutinising controversial legal immunity, and quashed key parts of the law after a day-long deliberation. Yesterday's ruling effectively gives individual trial judges the power to decide whether or not the media mogul premier should face legal proceedings.

The Constitutional Court rejected two similar laws introduced by Mr Berlusconi in 2004 and 2009, citing an article in the constitution stating that all citizens must be treated equally under the law.

In one of the two trials set to resume, Mr Berlusconi is accused of bribing David Mills, the estranged lawyer husband of the former Olympics minister Tessa Jowell, with $600,000 to lie under oath about the premier's tax affairs. Mills was sentenced in February 2009 to four and a half years in jail for accepting a bribe from Berlusconi. Criminal charges against Mills were thrown out only in February of last year when time for an appeal expired under the statute of limitations. Civil charges against him were upheld, however. Mr Berlusconi also faces charges of tax fraud in purchasing film rights for his television company Mediaset. Two Milan magistrates, Sergio Spadaro and Fabio de Pasquale, claim that since the 1980s, Mr Berlusconi's holding company, Fininvest, and subsequently his broadcast group Mediaset, have registered inflated costs for the purchase of US film rights, in order to divert millions of euros to slush funds in Switzerland and Hong Kong.

The premier denies any wrong-doing, and has described himself the "most persecuted man in all of history". He blames a political vendetta against him by left-wing magistrates. On Wednesday this week, he again attacked Italy's judiciary, calling it "an illness".

But the Corriere della Sera newspaper said yesterday that quashing the immunity law would have little effect as the trials have been delayed for so long that they would probably run out of time under the statute of limitations.

However, another investigation, called the Mediatrade probe, which follows on from the Mediaset film rights trial, is likely to see fresh tax fraud charges being brought against the Prime Minister and senior Mediaset managers. More time would be available for these charges to be heard.

Mr Berlusconi's lawyer, Niccolo' Ghedini, argued that the full impact of the ruling would only be understood when the Court issued its reasoning, in a month or so. Anticipating a setback, Mr Berlusconi had said the day before: "It really does not matter to me whether these trials are stopped or not."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones