Can the law catch up with Silvio?

Berlusconi is due in court today – with British lawyer David Mills giving evidence. It's one of many trials to come.

The irony probably wasn't lost on Silvio Berlusconi on the evening of 8 November when, with bitter reluctance, the tycoon-premier told President Giorgio Napolitano that he would quit in just weeks or days to halt the disastrous downward slide of Italy's stock market. Mr Berlusconi entered politics 17 years ago to save his business interests – at that time from left-wing politicians who wanted to dismantle them. Three weeks ago he was quitting office for the very same reason; only this time it was the markets that threatened his media empire.

With the speculators singling out Italy, it was Mediaset that felt the full force of their attack. The company had already lost 20 per cent of its value in five days, but on 8 November the fall accelerated. A day earlier Mr Berlusconi had met with Fedele Confalonieri, chairman of Mediaset and his oldest and closest friend who is widely believed to have told his boss that the game for him as Prime Minister was up – and that by failing to step down immediately, he risked seeing his business empire fall with him.

"He clearly told Mr Berlusconi: 'Quit now or you'll bring the company down'," the leading Italian media analyst Alessandro Baj Badino of Deutsche Bank, told The Independent.

Mediaset's share price fell further on the 9 November, but few doubt it would have been worse had he stayed.

This version of events is supported by the remarks of Mr Berlusconi's son, Pier Silvio, in an interview in Corriere della Sera newspaper on 19 November. Berlusconi junior, Mediaset's vice-president, spoke candidly about what he saw as the "climate of hostility" surrounding Mediaset because of its links to the Prime Minister, of which his father was "well aware". And on Friday last week Mr Berlusconi's coalition ally Umberto Bossi told journalists how he had heard Mediaset bosses telling the former premier to quit.

But Mr Berlusconi's decision to step down brings huge legal risks. Despite the concern about his crumbling parliamentary and public support, Mr Berlusconi's instinct to cling on to high office was underpinned by the knowledge that quitting would leave him more vulnerable to Milan's magistrates who are trying to convict him in three criminal cases.

Mr Berlusconi's ad hoc laws providing him with immunity from prosecution have all been thrown out by the constitutional court. But, as head of government, he was able to avoid court appearances that clashed with prime ministerial engagements, thereby slowing up trials – and making it more likely that the statutes of limitations, already modified to his own advantage, would kill off at least one of the processes. Similar legal manoeuvres in the past have seen him beat criminal convictions.

The legal pressure is not letting up. Depending on which source you believe, Mr Berlusconi faces between 20 and 40 court appearances between now and May, in three ongoing trials.

One of those could come today, when he resumes his defence against the charge that he bribed the British lawyer David Mills with $600,000 (£398,000). He also faces the charge of tax fraud relating to his Mediaset empire and – in the most recent and salacious trial – of sex with a minor and abuse of office. The Mills bribery trial will certainly die under the statute of limitations early next year before the automatic appeals process can even begin, although magistrates will be eager to bag a symbolic initial guilty verdict. Neither are prosecutors likely to get a definitive conviction against him in the Mediaset tax fraud trial, which involves complex and hoary accounting trails across several continents.

Their best bet for a conviction rests with the more recent and more straightforward "Rubygate" sex and corruption trial. In another ironic twist, one of the laws Mr Berlusconi himself passed, which lowers the burden of proof required in such sex cases, may yet come back to haunt him.

And if all of this weren't enough, the accusations of Mafia association have never been far away. A reminder came last week, when a prosecutor told a Palermo court that one of the mogul's oldest and closest associates, Senator Marcello Dell'Utri, a founding member of Mr Berlusconi's original Forza Italia party, was the intermediary between the ex-premier and Cosa Nostra bosses.

Even with a definitive conviction, sentencing guidelines mean that Mr Berlusconi, as a septuagenarian, will not go to prison. But he clearly hasn't given up efforts to maintain his political power base in the possibility it might once again strengthen his hand legally.

Even before stepping down, the media mogul had offered Mr Monti the support of all his PDL MPs in exchange for guarantees on justice legislation that might work to his advantage, one Italian news agency reported. Mr Monti was said quickly to have refused the offer.

Many pundits say it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Mr Berlusconi will make a fourth bid for high office. The political scientist Franco Panvoncello, of Rome's John Cabot University noted that "he's still the only prominent figure that people know and might want to vote for". Despite promising not to stand again, and naming the man he would like to succeed him – PDL secretary Angelino Alfano – Mr Berlusconi has been as busy as ever in the last two weeks marshalling parliamentary supporters, while the new Prime Minister Mario Monti does the dirty work of introducing new taxes and dismantling vested interests.

Mr Alfano, a politician with a face for radio in a parliamentary party full of pretty yet scantily qualified young women, has already had his credibility dented by attempting and failing three times to introduce unconstitutional immunity laws to keep Mr Berlusconi out of the courts. "If Mr Alfano stood, more experienced politicians like Roberto Formigoni [the PDL governor of Lombardy] would eat him for dinner," says Professor James Walston of the American University of Rome.

And Paolo Flores d'Arcais, the editor of the Italian magazine MicroMega, notes that, while Mr Berlusconi is no longer premier, "Berlusconismo is far from finished". He says that most of Mr Berlusconi's self-serving legislation remains in place as does his "monopolistic domination" of Italian television. "Only when this deluge of illegality has been properly dismantled can we claim that the post-Berlusconi era has really begun," he said.

Silvio's trials: from bribery to Bunga Bunga

BRIBERY CASE: BEGAN MARCH 2007, NEXT HEARING TODAY

Mr Berlusconi is accused of paying British lawyer David Mills, the estranged husband of former Olympics minister Tessa Jowell, $600,000 to lie under oath in two corruption trials in the late 1990s involving Mr Berlusconi. He was sentenced in February 2009 to four and a half years in jail for accepting a bribe from Mr Berlusconi. Criminal charges against Mr Mills were thrown out only in February of last year when time for an appeal expired under the statute of limitations. The charges against Mr Berlusconi await a similar fate, with the process due to expire by March 2013.

TAX FRAUD CASE: BEGAN NOVEMBER 2006, NEXT HEARING WEDNESDAY

In this complex case, Mr Berlusconi faces charges of tax fraud in relation to the purchase of US film rights for his television company, Mediaset. Milan magistrates claim that since the 1980s, Mr Berlusconi's holding company Fininvest, and subsequently his broadcast group Mediaset, 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. This case is also due to expire next year under the statute of limitations.

Mr Berlusconi's son Pier Silvio has been indicted in a similar case, which involved tax fraud relating to a later period.

RUBYGATE: BEGAN APRIL 2011, NEXT HEARING 2 DECEMBER

Prosecutors say Mr Berlusconi paid to have sex with a Moroccan dancer, Karima el-Mahroug, known as Ruby, at one of his adult parties at his mansion near Milan in May last year when she was just 17 years old. In Italy, paying for sex with someone under 18 is punishable with three years in jail. They also claim that Mr Berlusconi telephoned Milan police and claimed that Ms El-Mahroug was the niece or granddaughter of the then-Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, when she was held on suspected theft. The prosecutors allege that the premier intervened – and abused his powers – to prevent her spilling the beans on his X-rated soirées. An initial verdict is expected late next year or early 2013.

A court last week said that the witnesses could include the US actor George Clooney and the footballer Cristiano Ronaldo.

Suggested Topics
News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger is in Argentina having chemotherapy

Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum
theatre

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK edition of wedding show forced to recast after wave of drop-outs
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

March On Cancer™ - Local Marketing and Promotions Volunteer

This is an unpaid voluntary role.: Cancer Research UK: We need motivational vo...

Maths Teacher - Evening session

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: I am looking for a qualified experi...

Teaching Assistants

£50 - £85 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Rapidly developing and growing ...

Supply Teachers needed in Stowmarket

£1034496 - £1516224 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: The Job:Randstad ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week