Disgraced ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi this evening vowed to remain active in politics just hours before opponents in the senate cleared another key hurdle in their quest to have him expelled from parliament.
Under anti-corruption law, the three-time prime minister lost his right to hold a seat when last month the Supreme Court upheld his conviction for tax fraud.
Andrea Augello, a Berlusconi supporter on the Senate committee, had proposed a last-ditch measure to confirm the tycoon's seat in the upper chamber. But at 10pm tonight Mr Berlusconi's centre-left opponents voted down the recommendation.
As a result, the membership committee will meet again and almost certainly call for his expulsion. If this happens, their recommendation will be put to the whole upper chamber, where the former-prime Minster's opponents are also in the majority, in mid-October.
Berlusconi supporters have in the past weeks threatened to bring down the fragile left-right coalition government if his opponents failed to halt their campaign to expel him. These threats have died down now, with Berlusconi's conservative Pdl (People of Freedom) party perhaps fearing it might suffer the backlash for the resulting political instability.
And with an additional ban on holding public office due to kick in soon as a part of his tax-fraud sentence, the 76-year-old mogul appears to have accepted that his days in parliament are probably numbered.
As is often the case when he feels under siege, Mr Berlusconi this evening broadcast a long, presidential-style video. “I will always be with you, at your side, expelled from parliament or not. It is not the parliamentary seat that makes a leader,” the tycoon said.
A TV viewer who'd spent the previous twenty years on Mars, might have concluded from the video rant, that he or she was watching the head of state, rather than a convicted criminal who was weeks away from a year of house arrest or community service meted out to him for tax fraud.
Most Italian viewers, however, would have been used to attacks on the left and the supposedly politically-motivated judges who convicted him contained in the 16-minute broadcast.
For those who didn't get the point, at one stage the billionaire articulated, with increasing volume: “I have committed no crime. I am innocent. I am completely innocent.”
Mr Berlusconi was further enraged by the supreme court's decision yesterday to confirm the huge, €500 million payment that his Fininvest holding company must make to a rival group to compensate it for the corrupt means it employed to win a key take-over battle: one of Berlusconi's lawyers bribed a judge.