Silvio Berlusconi's post-election honeymoon has come to an explosive end, with the Italian Prime Minister seeking to have the judge in his corruption trial removed, and his allies slipping in a last-minute amendment to an emergency security law which would, in effect, freeze legal proceedings against him.
For the past two years, Mr Berlusconi, 71, has been on trial in Milan, accused of having conspired with a British lawyer, David Mills, the estranged husband of the government minister Tessa Jowell, to corrupt the course of justice. The substance of the charge – prompted by Mr Mills's spontaneous declaration to a UK accountant – is that Mr Berlusconi paid him $600,000 to give false testimony in two trials in the late Nineties. Both men deny the charges.
With the trial predicted to end soon, Mr Berlusconi came up late on Monday night with what opponents dubbed a "premier-saving" law. If passed, the amendment would oblige Italy's judges to give precedence, for one year, to cases involving serious crimes such as violent crime or Mafia offences that carry terms of 10 years or more. Trials involving alleged white-collar criminals, such as Mr Berlusconi and Mr Mills who risk a six-year jail term, would be put on the shelf.
Lawyers for Mr Berlusconi, a billionaire business tycoon, began proceedings yesterday to remove Nicoletta Gandus, the judge presiding at the trial in Milan.