Italy’s billionaire former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi said yesterday he will appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg over a tax fraud conviction delivered this month.
Berlusconi, 76, made the announcement in a letter to the Senate committee that will begin meetings next week to decide whether to expel him from parliament after the scandal-tainted tycoon lost his second and final appeal in the case.
“Berlusconi this morning presented his defence documents for the procedure that has been launched,” the chair of the committee, opposition senator Dario Stefano, told reporters. “He pre-announces an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights for violating of article seven of the European Convention on Human Rights.”
The article stipulates that no one can be found guilty of a crime that was not on the books at the time it was committed and that no heavier penalty can be applied than the one applicable when the criminal offence was committed. A lawyer from Berlusconi’s legal defence team contacted by AFP specified that no formal appeal had yet been lodged with the European court.
Berlusconi has been investigated, charged and convicted multiple times in a colourful career that has taken him from a successful business background to two decades of dominance of Italy’s political scene.
But his convictions had always been overturned until the August 1 ruling. He is also still appealing convictions in two more cases, including for having sex with an underage prostitute and for abuse of office when he was still prime minister.
His supporters have threatened to resign en masse if Berlusconi is ejected from parliament and they argue that a new law that bars convicted criminals who are sentenced to more than two years in prison does not apply to him.
Berlusconi has been sentenced to four years for dodging hundreds of millions of euros in taxes linked to his media business, although the punishment was automatically reduced by three years thanks to an amnesty in force.
Due to his age, Berlusconi is unlikely even to serve the year in prison and will instead have to do community service or be placed under house arrest, starting in October when the sentence is implemented.
Italian cabinet eyes tax deal to stave off collapse
Italy’s bickering coalition yesterday reached for a deal to reform an unpopular property tax and stave off the prospect of imminent government collapse under pressure from Silvio Berlusconi’s supporters.
The billionaire tycoon’s People of Freedom party has promised to scrap the tax and has threatened to pull out from the government if Prime Minister Enrico Letta and his centre-left Democratic Party do not go along.
Italian media reported a tentative agreement to cancel the tax for this year for primary residences and farmland and to introduce a new “service tax” to fund local services from 2014 calculated on house size. But the reports said there was still heated debate over how to replace the estimated 4bn euros ($5.3bn) that the tax would have brought in.
Letta has cautioned against political instability at a sensitive time for Italy, the eurozone’s third largest economy, which has been stuck in recession since 2011 and has seen unemployment rocket to record highs.
Berlusconi’s legal woes have raised concern about the future of Letta’s government, the fruit of a controversial coalition deal following a two-month deadlock after parliamentary elections in February.
The supreme court earlier this month upheld a conviction for tax fraud against Berlusconi, which means he now faces expulsion from parliament and a one-year sentence of house arrest or community service. The Senate committee that will decide whether or not to eject the former prime minister from parliament will meet on September 9, while a court is set to decide on Berlusconi’s precise form of punishment in October.