Italy’s disgraced former premier Silvio Berlusconi is appealing to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in the hope of beating his recent tax fraud conviction, it has emerged.
Lawyers for the tycoon are also contesting the legality of attempts by his opponents to have him kicked out of parliament. A key Berlusconi supporter, Angelino Alfano, who is Deputy Prime Minister in the current left-right coalition government, said on Sunday that the petition to the Strasbourg tribunal showed that “the Berlusconi case isn’t closed”.
The news comes as a Senate conduct committee prepares to meet on Monday to discuss the case for expelling the three-times premier from parliament, after the Supreme Court’s decision on 1 August to uphold his four-year sentence for tax fraud. According to an anti-corruption law, drafted by the leading criminal lawyer Paola Severino in her role as Justice Minister in the Mario Monti government, the mogul must now lose his Senate seat.
Berlusconi supporters, however, say the law should not be applied retrospectively and have threatened to pull the rug from under the fragile coalition if Berlusconi’s opponents, who have a majority in the Senate, vote to have him removed from the chamber.
But with little appetite among politicians or the public for new elections, Berlusconi’s advisers have decided to seek help in Strasbourg, by contesting the legality, under Article 13 the of the European Convention on Human Rights, of applying the Severino law retrospectively – despite many Italian law experts saying the tycoon has not got a leg to stand on. Berlusconi is thought to dread losing his Senate seat. Observers note that, once he is deprived of parliamentary protection, magistrates will find it easier to arrest him for other crimes of which he is accused. His lawyers also want Strasbourg to challenge the tax fraud conviction itself.
Berlusconi’s lawyers say it violates article seven of the Convention, which stipulates that no one can be found guilty of a crime that was not on the books at the time it was committed, and that no heavier penalty can be applied than the one applicable when the criminal offence was committed.
Italy’s Supreme Court of Cassation convicted the mogul for hiding millions of euros from his media empire in overseas funds. Until then Mr Berlusconi had managed to dodge dozens of convictions on charges including bribery and tax fraud – sometimes thanks to changes in the law that he himself introduced as premier.