'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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
people
Life and Style
techApp to start sending headlines, TV clips and ads to your phone
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
Life and Style
tech
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
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

Principal Arboricultural Consultant

£35000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Principal Arboricu...

Trainee Digital Forensic Analyst

£17000 - £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Trainee Digital Fo...

Legal Recruitment Consultant

Highly Competitive Salary + Commission: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL BASED - DEALING ...

Planning Manager (Training, Learning and Development) - London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glob...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment