Saturday, September 17, 2005

Post Number Forty-Seven: Infamy Fell On Italy

Of Silvio Berlusconi.

Silvio Berlusconi, whom I consider my nemesis, the exact opposite of the kind of person I would esteem, and the ultimate evil to be eradicated if we want Italy to progress into the world of civilized countries, is the Prime Minister of Italy. I will hereby paste an excerpt from Wikipedia's entry about this person Berlusconi.

Silvio Berlusconi:


Berlusconi is a controversial figure at times. In one widely reported incident, upon being asked how he would have dealt with his conflict of interests by the German member of the European parliament Martin Schulz (SPD) during Italy's presidency, Berlusconi reacted with the words "Mr. Schulz, I know there is a producer in Italy who is making a film on the Nazi concentration camps. I will suggest you for the role of kapo. You'd be perfect." The reference to the Nazis caused an uproar in the 626-seat assembly and a short diplomatic crisis between Italy and Germany.
On another occasion, he stated that "Mussolini's regime hadn't killed a single person" and that Mussolini "just used to send opposers on holiday" thus apparently denying or dismissing a long series of fascist crimes, from the murder of Giacomo Matteotti to the infamous fascist concentration camps (Rab, Gonars, etc.). Berlusconi later claimed that he did not mean to white-wash Mussolini, that he only reacted to a comparison, which he felt unfair, between the fascist dictator and Saddam Hussein.
One of Berlusconi's strongest critics in the media outside Italy is the British weekly The Economist (nicknamed by Berlusconi "The Ecommunist"). The war of words between Berlusconi and the Economist has been infamous and widely reported, with Berlusconi taking the publication to court in Rome and the Economist publishing open letters against him
In any event, according to The Economist, Berlusconi, in his position as prime minister of Italy, now has effective control of 90% of all national television broadcasting. This figure includes stations he owns directly as well as those he has indirect control of through his position as Prime Minister and his ability to influence the choice of the management bodies of these stations.
Berlusconi's extensive control of the media has been linked to claims that Italy's media shows limited freedom of expression. The Freedom of the Press 2004 Global Survey, an annual study issued by the American organization Freedom House, downgraded Italy's ranking from 'Free' to 'Partly Free' on the basis of Berlusconi's influence over RAI, a ranking which, in "Western Europe" was shared only with Turkey (2005). Reporters Without Borders states that in 2004, "The conflict of interests involving prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and his vast media empire was still not resolved and continued to threaten news diversity". In April 2004, the International Federation of Journalists joined the criticism, objecting to the passage of a law vetoed by Carlo Azeglio Ciampi in 2003, which critics believe is designed to protect Berlusconi's alleged 90% control of national media.
Berlusconi's influence over RAI [The National Broadcasting Company of Italy] became evident when in Sofia he expressed his views on the journalists Enzo Biagi, Michele Santoro, and comedian Daniele Luttazzi after his satiric behaviour and his interview with journalist Marco Travaglio. The four never appeared in any TV shows since then. Left-winged politicians and media refers to this episode as the Sofia Diktat. The TV broadcasting of a satirical program called RAIOT was censored in November 2003 after the comedian Sabina Guzzanti made outspoken criticism of Berlusconi media empire Mediaset, one of Berlusconi's companies, sued the italian state broadcasting company RAI because of Guzzanti show asking 20 million Euro for "damages" and from novembre 2003 she was forced to appear only in theatres around Italy.
In response to such claims, Mediaset, Berlusconi's television group, has stated that it uses the same criteria as the public (state-owned) television RAI in assigning a proper visibility to all the most important political parties and movements (the so-called 'Par Condicio'). It is also true that while the distribution of newspapers in Italy is lower than most other European countries (100 copies per 1000 individuals compared to 500 per 1000 in Scandinavian countries, for example, the majority of national press, which includes the three italian largest printed dailies, La Repubblica, Il Corriere della Sera and La Stampa, tends to report independently of the Berlusconi government or (in the case of La Repubblica, among the three major newspapers cited above) to be very openly critic of it. Yet the resignations of the director of Corriere della Sera, Ferruccio de Bortoli, were seen as a grasp for more media control from the government. In fact the FNSI, the Trade Union for Italian Journalists, organized a three days long strike to show support to the former director of the newspaper.
The conflict of interest issues can be better understood in the context of the structure of control of the state media. The board of directors of RAI is appointed by both presidents of law-makers' chambers (Senate and Deputies). Although the presidents are chosen by the majority group, they are traditionally chosen in order to be acceptable by the opposition too. As of 2005 these positions are occupied by Marcello Pera and Pierferdinando Casini respectively. The Italian parliament established an oversight commission for radio and TV broadcasting services in 1975, including members of all parties. The chairman of this commission is traditionally a representative of the opposition (at the present time a member of DS-Ulivo party)

Legal investigations of Berlusconi

Silvio Berlusconi undoubtedly has a rather long record of judicial trials, as several crimes have been alleged to him or his firms (see also the following subsection on Berlusconi's trials), including false accounting, tax fraud, corruption and bribery of police officers and judges. Some of Berlusconi's close collaborators, friends and firm managers have been found guilty of related crimes, notably his younger brother, Paolo, who in 2002 accepted to pay 52 million euros as a plea bargain to local authorities for various charges including corruption and undue appropriation17. However, no definitive conviction sentence has ever been issued on Silvio Berlusconi himself for any of the trials which have concluded so far; in some cases he has been fully acquitted of the alleged charges, in others he has been acquitted with dubitative formula (not proven), or he was acquitted because the statute of limitations expired before a definitive sentence could be issued; in one case a previously granted amnesty extinguished the crime (perjury) before the sentence came into effect. The Italian legal system allows the statute of limitations to continue to run during the course of the trial. Consequently, the dilatory tactics adopted by Berlusconi's attorneys (including repeated motions for change of venue) served to nullify the pending charges. Some of the suspects on Berlusconi's person arise from real or perceived blank spots in his past. Notably, in 1981 a scandal arose on the discovery by the police of Licio Gelli's secret freemasonry lodge (Propaganda Due, or P2) aiming to move the Italian political system in an authoritarian direction to oppose communism. A list of names was found of adherents of P2, which included members of the secret services and some prominent personalities from the political, industrial, military and press elite, among which Silvio Berlusconi, who was just starting to gain popularity as the founder and owner of "Canale 5" TV network. The P2 lodge was dissolved by the Italian parliament in december 1981 and a law was passed declaring similar organizations illegal, but no specific crimes were alleged to individual members of P2. Berlusconi later (1989) sued for libel three journalists who had written an article hinting at his involvement in financiary crimes and in this occasion he declared in court that he had joined the P2 lodge "only a very short time before the scandal broke" and "he had not even paid the entry fee". Such statements, however, conflicted with the findings of the parliamentary commission appointed to investigate the lodge's activity, with material evidence, and even with previous testimony of Berlusconi, all of which showing that he had actually been a member of P2 since 1978 and had indeed paid a 100,000 Italian liras entry fee. Because of this he was indicted for perjury, but the crime was extinguished by the 1989 amnesty.
Berlusconi's career as an entrepreneur is also often questioned by his detractors. The allegations made against him generally include suspects about the extremely fast increase of his activity as a constructon entrepreneur in years 1961-63, hinting at the possibility that in those years he received money from unknown and possibly illegal sources. These accusations are regarded by Berlusconi and his supporters as empty slander, trying to undermine Berlusconi's reputation of a self-made man. Frequently cited by opponents are also events dating to the 1980s, including supposed "favor exchanges" between Berlusconi and the former prime minister Bettino Craxi, indicted in 1990-91 for various corruption charges; and even possible connections to the Italian Mafia, the latter accusations arising mostly from the curious circumstance that he employed for two years, as a stableman in his Arcore villa, the wanted mafia boss Vittorio Mangano4. Berlusconi acknowledges a personal friendship only to Craxi, and of course denies any ties to the Mafia, stating that he was absolutely not aware of who Mangano really was when he employed him. Heated debate on this issue was recently (2004) triggered again when a Forza Italia senator and long time friend of Berlusconi, Marcello Dell'Utri, was sentenced to 9 years by the Palermo court on charge of "external association to the Mafia" 5, a sentence on which Berlusconi refused to comment.
On some occasions, which raised a strong upheaval in the Italian political opposition, laws passed by the Berlusconi administration have effectively delayed ongoing trials on him, allowing the statute of limitations to expire, or stopped them entirely. Relevant examples are the law reducing punishment for all cases of false accounting; the new law on international rogatories, which made his Swiss bank records unusable in court against him 6; the law on legitimate suspicion, which allowed defendants to request their cases to be moved to another court if they believe that the local judges are biased against them 7,8; and most importantly the lodo Maccanico law, passed in June 2003, which granted the highest five state officers, including the Prime Minister, immunity from prosecution while in office2. This law froze Berlusconi's position in the SME-Ariosto trial in which he was accused of having corrupted judges in previous legal rulings regarding his partecipation in the public auction of the state-owned food company SME in the 1980s. However, the trial was not frozen for other defendants, and the former lawyer of Berlusconi's main firm (Fininvest) and former Italian defence minister, Cesare Previti, was sentenced to 5 years although the crime was reduced from corruption of judges to simple corruption 9,10. In January 2004 the Lodo Maccanico was nullified by the Constitutional court as it was ruled to be in conflict with the Italian constitution. Subsequently Berlusconi has declared his intent to re-introduce the law using the correct procedure for constitutional modification. Because of these legislative acts, political opposers accuse Berlusconi of passing ad personam laws, to protect himself from legal charges; Berlusconi and his allies, on the other hand, mantain that such laws are consistent with everyone's right to a rapid and just trial, and with the principle of presumption of innocence (garantismo); furthermore, they claim that Berlusconi is subject to a judiciary persecution, a political witch hunt orchestrated by politicized (left-wing) judges 11.
For such reasons, Berlusconi and his government have an ongoing quarrel with the Italian judiciary, which reached its peak in 2003 when Berlusconi commented to a foreign journalist that judges are "mentally disturbed" and "anthropologically different from the rest of the human race", remarks that he later claimed he meant to be directed to specific judges only, and of a humorous nature12. More seriously, the Berlusconi administration has long been planning a judiciary reform intended to limit the arbitrariness allowed to the judges in their decisions (for example by introducing civil liability on the consequences of their sentences), but which, according to its critics, will instead limit the magistrature's independence, by de facto subjecting the judiciary to the executive's control. This reform has met almost unanimous dissent from the Italian judges 13,14 and, after three years of debate and struggle, was passed by the Italian parliament in December 2004, but was immediately vetoed by the Italian President, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi 15, who said some of the passed laws were "clearly unconstitutional". Presently (February 2005) the law is in process of being examinated by the parliament again, taking into account the President's objections of constitutionality.
Berlusconi has also been indicted in Spain for charges of tax fraud and violation of anti-trust laws regarding the private TV network Telecinco, but his status as a member of the European Parliament allowed him to gain immunity from prosecution 16.

This section provides a summary of each of the many trials involving Silvio Berlusconi as of 2004.
Completed processes
False testimony on Propaganda 2: In 1990 Berlusconi was declared theoretically guilty of perjury by the appeal court of Venice for false testimony on his affiliation to the freemason lodge "Propaganda 2", commonly known as "P2"; however the court did not proceed to a punishment sentence because the crime had been extinguished by the 1989 amnesty.

Bribing a member of the Financial Police (corruption)
First Court: sentenced to jail (2 years and 9 months) for four bribes.Appeal court: the statute of limitations expired for three of the charges, an acquitted was given on the fourth with dubitative formula (similar to Scottish law not proven verdict).

All Iberian 1 (illegally financing a political party)
First Court: sentenced to jail (2 years and 4 months) for paying 21 billion lire (about 10 million Euro) to Bettino Craxi via an offshore bank account codenamed "All Iberian".Appeal Court: the statute of limitations expired before the appeal was completed so Silvio Berlusconi was acquitted.

Medusa Cinema (false accounting)
First Court: sentenced to jail (16 months) for false accounting of 10 billion Lire (about 5 million Euro) in some of Silvio Berlusconi's bank accounts.Appeal Court: acquitted on the charge with dubitative formula (not proven) .

Lodo Mondadori (corrupting a judge)
Appeal Court: statute of limitations expired before the appeal was completed so Silvio Berlusconi was acquitted.

Trials still running (September 2004)

All Iberian 2 (false accounting):
Trial suspended: both the European Court of Justice and the Italian Constitutional Court are examining the new laws on social crimes approved by Berlusconi's Government. If the new laws are accepted, the crime statute of limitations will have expired.

Macherio estates (embezzlement, tax fraud and false accounting)
First Court: acquitted for embezzlement and tax fraud, the statute of limitations expired before a verdict was reached on the two cases of false accounting.Appeal Court: acquitted for embezzlement, tax fraud and the first case of false accounting; statute of limitations expired for the second.

Lentini affair (false accounting / 5 millions Euro paid secretly to Torino football club for buying the player Luigi Lentini)
First court: The statute of limitations expired for the charge.Appeal court: still running.
Fininvest media group consolidated (false accounting / 750 million Euro of illegal (black) funds stored by Fininvest in 64 offshore societies)The statute of limitations expired due to the new laws on false accounting recently approved by Berlusconi's government.

SME-Ariosto (corrupting a judge)
At the beginning, the trial SME-Ariosto involved both Cesare Previti and Silvio Berlusconi. Then, the Italian government approved a new law, the so called "Lodo Maccanico" (also known as "Lodo Schifani"): this law gives immunity to the five highest state officers (premier, president of the Republic, Senate's president, Deputy Chamber's president, Constitutional Court's president). In order to avoid the complete suspension of the trial, the Court of Milan has split it in two parts, one regarding Cesare Previti, and the other regarding Silvio Berlusconi. The Cesare Previti's part of the trial resulted in a guilty verdict, while the other part (regarding Silvio Berlusconi) was closed because of the statute of limitations, and not with a innocence verdict. Actually, the Constitutional Court declared that the "Lodo Maccanico" violates articles n. 3 and 34 of the Italian Constitution (Sentence n. 120, 2004).

SME-Ariosto (false accounting)
Trial suspended: the European Court of Justice is examining the new Italian laws on social crimes (see trial on All Iberian 2 above).


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I think everyone can understand why I hate this man.

As for the rest, I still believe that all men are created equal - which is definitely something Berlusconi doesn't believe, much less understand.