'Teflon Don' Silvio Berlusconi finally comes unstuck after guilty ruling

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Tax fraudster may use community service as publicity stunt

The bigger they come, the harder they fall. Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s richest man, three-time premier and pre-eminent libertine, is now a tax fraud. By autumn he will be under house arrest or even sweeping the streets for his community service.

To ensure he does not flee the country like his mentor and former premier Bettino Craxi, who was convicted of receiving bribes, Berlusconi will now have to hand over his passport to the Interior ministry.

Even more humiliating for the would-be elder statesman is the requirement that he surrender his diplomatic passport to the foreign secretary Emma Bonino, one of his leading feminist critics who once described Berlusconi as “an international embarrassment”.

He has until 16 October to choose between a year of house arrest or community service. That might sound like a no-brainer. And some of his supporters have already mocked the notion that the billionaire playboy would choose to donate his time to help other septuagenarians when he could simply spend a sybaritic year in one of his many villas or palaces.

But Berlusconi has indicated he would prefer community service. With his political genius, it’s likely he would make the most of the publicity.

Public appearances would certainly allow him to vent his spleen. The long, seething video message he put out on Thursday night dispelled any doubt that he was furious and aghast that the judges of the Supreme Court, Italy’s highest court, had definitively convicted the billionaire of hiding millions of euros from his media empire in overseas slush funds. 

The alternative opinion, shared by the majority of Italians, came from anti-establishment politician Beppe Grillo. “His sentence is like the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989,” the former comic declared yesterday. “The wall divided Germany for 28 years. This tax evader, friend of mafiosi, card-carrying mason, has polluted, corrupted, and paralysed Italian politics for 21 years since he came onto the scene in order to avoid bankruptcy and prison.”

The fact that the law has finally caught up with Berlusconi probably hasn’t mitigated overseas observers’ bafflement as to how he got away with it for so long.

For many Italians Berlusconi has for two decades been the incarnation of everything wrong with their country: its moral shabbiness, its superficiality, the elevation of the family above the state, the readiness to indulge special interests if it advanced one’s own career.

Berlusconi made a huge fortune out of property and became a billionaire media mogul, celebrated for his glamorous lifestyle long before he dreamed of going into politics. He probably made the momentous decision to enter the political fray fearing the knives would be out for his media empire if a radical left-wing government came to power following the collapse of the established political parties in the wake of  the Tangentopoli corruption scandal in 1992.

At the start, few beyond his devoted fans took him seriously: how could an ingénue like him survive in that snake pit? He soon showed, however, he was leagues ahead of conventional politicians, creating in Forza Italia a party focused on himself, which was run like a business by his own employees.

As an addict of American television and the man who brought commercial TV to Italy, he was from the outset a genius at marketing himself and his shiny but vacuous political product. He forged alliances with neo-Fascists and northern secessionists and barged into government at the first attempt.

But the public prosecutors were not far behind. There were huge questions hanging over Berlusconi’s rapid rise to become the nation’s richest man: was he really in cahoots with the Sicilian Mafia? If not, why had he taken a senior Mafioso on as the “stable manager” at his mansion, despite having no horses? Had he got the better of the tax police by the simple dodge of putting their inspector on his payroll? Why, as prime minister, had he de-criminalised accounting fraud? The suspicions were numerous and weighty, and prosecutors were determined to get to the bottom of them. The criminal trials haven’t finished yet. And they probably never will while Berlusconi is alive. But in the shorter term, his legal travails may have very serious repercussions for Italian politics.

Under legislation introduced in 2012 by the Monti government, Berlusconi will not now be able to stand as a candidate at the next election. But worse than that, there’s a good chance he will be kicked out of the Senate in the coming months.

If enough members of the centre-left Democratic Party vote with the populist Five Star Movement on the Senate disciplinary committee they could bar him from parliament on the grounds that he now has a definitive conviction.

But whether the members of the Democratic Party will do that, and risk the collapse of the left-right coalition, which relies on Berlusconi’s support, remains to be seen.

But after 20 years of watching helplessly as Berlusconi ducked and dived, the law finally appears to be getting the upper hand.

The Guilty Men? Berlusconi's friends

Bettino Craxi

The ex-premier and Socialist Party leader fled to Tunisia in 1994 to escape a 25-year jail sentence for bribery. A close friend of Berlusconi, Craxi was accused of taking bribes worth millions of pounds. He died in exile in 2000.

Cesare Previti

Berlusconi’s lawyer, and sometime Minister of Defence, was found guilty of bribing a Rome judge in order to help Berlusconi win a takeover battle with another tycoon.

Marcello Dell’Utri

The former senator, a close friend and political associate of Berlusconi, was sentenced to seven years in prison for Mafia collusion this year by a Palermo appeal court. He denies the charges.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
football
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
News
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Travel
travel
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform