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Thursday, August 01, 2013

Verdict day for Berlusconi: Could a lose-lose scenario materialise for Letta?

Supreme Court judges in Rome have started deliberating, and the final verdict in Silvio Berlusconi's tax fraud case is expected by this evening. The former Italian Prime Minister is appealing against a four-year jail sentence and a five-year public office ban (see our reader-friendly Q&A for more details).

If the Supreme Court upholds the conviction, it would be the first time Berlusconi is issued with a definitive sentence, with no more appeals left. However, two further points of background are worth noting:
  • As we explained in our Q&A, if Berlusconi were convicted by the Supreme Court, the Italian Senate would have to vote on whether to lift his parliamentary immunity. However, the immunity would not cover the jail sentence - which would be enforced anyway because it would be a definitive one (although in practice it would almost certainly amount to house arrest, given Berlusconi's age). 
  • A majority of Italian Senators could potentially overturn the Supreme Court ruling on this point. This would mean that Berlusconi would not have to resign as a Senator, and would be allowed to stand for election in future.
Interestingly, Prime Minister Enrico Letta's centre-left Democratic Party (currently in a coalition with Berlusconi) could face a lose-lose situation there:
  • If the Democratic Party helped vote Berlusconi out of parliament, it could put the government at risk.
  • If the Democratic Party voted against the public office ban, it would presumably annoy many of its voters and allow Berlusconi to continue to exert direct influence on Italian politics. It would also provide ammunition to someone like Beppe Grillo, who would instantly claim that 'La Casta' (the caste) has closed ranks to protect Berlusconi. Of course, the Italian Senate going against a Supreme Court ruling would also be a pretty big thing.
Now, we have the joy of waiting for the verdict. Stay tuned @OpenEurope and @LondonerVince.

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