Landmark vote likely to end nearly two decades of Berlusconi's domination of Italian politics
ROME – Silvio Berlusconi has been voted out of parliament by the Italian Senate, following his conviction in August for tax fraud in a case pertaining to Hollywood movie deals done by his Mediaset TV empire.
The Senate booted out the media-mogul-turned pol on Wednesday based on a 2012 law that bans anyone sentenced to more than two years in prison from holding or running for public office for six years. It also stripped Berlusconi of his parliamentary immunity from incarceration.
While imprisonment is not likely, he now faces one year of community service due to the softened four-year tax-fraud conviction.
The Senate vote was actually a series of votes against nine amendments presented to try and prevent Berlusconi’s expulsion on procedural grounds. These amendments were struck down by a wide majority.
The watershed expulsion is likely to prevent the three-time premier who, after entering Italian politics in 1994 became the country’s most powerful pol, from holding a parliamentary seat of power again.
But while out of public office, Berlusconi, 77, remains head of his just relaunched Forza Italia party, now in the opposition.
During the tense vote Berlusconi’s supporters gathered in front of his central Rome palazzo Wednesday for a massive rally, considered the start of Italy’s next electoral campaign.
“It’s a bitter day of mourning for our democracy,” Berlusconi, who stayed out of the Senate, told his fans in a speech made before the vote.
However, “we won’t retreat to some convent. We are here and we will stay here,” he vowed. Berlusconi, a conservative, has always claimed he is a victim of political persecution by leftist magistrates.
Stock in Mediaset, which is Italy’s largest private broadcaster, closed up 1.3 points at €3.3 ($4.57) in trading on the Milan bourse on Wednesday, an indication that Berlusconi’s probable gradual political undoing going forward may not represent such a fatal blow for his company.
Mediaset on Nov. 12 posted a net $36.3 million loss in the first nine months of 2013 due to Italy’s still depressed ad market. But thanks to cost-cutting, the Berlusconi-controlled company appears to be slowly bouncing back after posting its first annual loss in 2012 since going public in 1996.
Whether Berlusconi himself – once known as the Teflon Don when the dozens of court cases against him never seemed to stick – will bounce back from this monumental blow is more doubtful.
The case that got Berlusconi kicked out of the Senate stems from $678 million in movie rights purchased by Mediaset from Hollywood studios, including Paramount and Fox, through offshore companies at inflated prices during the 1990s to allegedly evade taxes and create a slush fund.
On Monday, in the lead-up to Wednesday’s vote, Berlusconi’s lawyers cited new evidence they claim could re-open the case and get it overturned. It is based on alleged testimony from Dominique Appleby, a U.S. citizen who worked for Hollywood-based producer and rights trader Frank Agrama, the middleman in the movie deals who was also convicted in August. In an affidavit Appleby reportedly claims Agrama kept Berlusconi in the dark about details of the illicit Mediaset deals. Italian law does allow a case to be reopened if there is compelling evidence.
Berlusconi’s legal woes are far from over. He has been indicted on charges of bribing a senator in an attempt to bring down former premier Romano Prodi’s government in 2007. Berlusconi is also appealing a conviction handed down in June on charges of having sex with an underage girl and abusing his office to cover it up. Being stripped of his parliamentary immunity makes these cases more threatening.
Berlusconi denies the allegations in both cases.