Berlusconi avoids court for 18 months

Italian law helps mogul fend off prosecution

MILAN — Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has managed to pass a controversial law that will allow him to postpone the two trials in which he is involved for 18 months.

Despite angry protests from opposition MPs, head of state President Giorgio Napolitano signed the legitimate impediment law, which allows ministers to avoid appearing at criminal proceedings for up to 18 months, when they have government business to attend to.

In one trial Berlusconi stands accused of bribing British lawyer David Mills to lie in court. In the other he is charged with tax fraud in relation to the purchase of film rights for his Mediaset empire.

With the new 18-month breathing space, ministers are likely to attempt to re-introduce general parliamentary immunity in order to protect Berlusconi indefinitely from prosecution, experts say.

“Last night’s law is all about buying Berlusconi time,” Bologna University law professor Justin Frosini told Variety.

However, Paolo Bonaiuti, Berlusconi’s spokesman, said the mogul-Prime Minister was “far too busy with official tasks to be able to attend 23 hearings a month.”

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