Wednesday, April 06, 2011

LAWYERSCHILE: Silvio Berlusconi's trials

News analysis


Silvio Berlusconi's trials

Opening the Rubygate

Apr 6th 2011, 13:18 by The Economist online | ROME

IT COULD not have begun more discreetly. A trial heralded as the most sensational of any brought against Italy's much-prosecuted prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, opened this morning at a hearing lasting nine minutes and 50 seconds—and was promptly adjourned to May 31st.

Mr Berlusconi, who was not in court, is accused of two particularly squalid offences: paying an underage prostitute, and exploiting his position to cover it up. He denies any wrongdoing, and will doubtless have been heartened by what little emerged at today's hearing. The alleged prostitute is Karima el-Mahroug, known to some as Ruby Rubacuori ("Ruby Heartstealer"), the runaway daughter of a Moroccan immigrant who was under 18, the minimum age for prostitution in Italy, when she visited Mr Berlusconi's villa outside Milan last year.

Ms el-Mahroug's lawyer told the court that she would not be joining herself to the case or seeking damages from the prime minister. In fact, she denied she was a prostitute or that she had had sex with the 74-year-old Mr Berlusconi.

That was not the only good news for the embattled prime minister. Yesterday the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of parliament, resolved by a 12-vote majority to ask Italy's constitutional court to block the proceedings against him. Mr Berlusconi's supporters, who saw two more deputies join their ranks for the vote, maintain that the prosecutors ignored a ruling by parliament that the case should have been dealt with by a special court. (His opponents argue that jurisdiction is a matter for judges and note that the special court would have needed parliamentary approval to proceed.)

Today's adjournment may give the constitutional court time to decide. But it will also give the judges and prosecutors in Milan time to focus on a separate case, one Mr Berlusconi is said to fear more, in which he denies bribing a British lawyer, David Mills, to withhold testimony that could have led to his conviction in an earlier trial.

Since Mr Mills has already been found guilty (although his conviction was later quashed on a technicality), there is a real chance the prime minister could face the same verdict, and that the proceedings against him will be dispatched before they are timed out by a statute of limitations, as has happened in previous cases against him.

This, say critics, is why his government has resurrected a bill to put different sorts of time limits on trials and appeals. Drafted by Mr Berlusconi's lawyer, the bill is ostensibly intended to ginger up Italy's notoriously sluggish legal system. It has been approved by the Senate but not yet by the chamber. The body that oversees the judiciary says that if the law is enacted, between 10% and 40% of the defendants currently on trial in Italy could walk free. Mr Berlusconi's justice minister says the true figure is 1%.


Rodrigo González Fernández
Diplomado en "Responsabilidad Social Empresarial" de la ONU
Diplomado en "Gestión del Conocimiento" de la ONU
Diplomado en Gerencia en Administracion Publica ONU
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