Bunga’s Back – Berlusconi’s Case Goes To European Court Of Human Rights
In the Sicilian elections earlier this month, Silvio Berlusconi’s return to a central role in Italy’s political circus took a major step forward with the victory of Nello Musumeci, the candidate backed by the center-right parties, including Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (see “Berlusconi: The Greatest Comeback Since Lazarus?”). As we said at the time.
Besides cementing the alliance between his Forza Italia, Brothers of Italy and the Northern League, we will be watching as Berlusconi seeks to overturn the ban on his running for public office. Berlusconi, of course, denies any wrongdoing.
While Berlusconi was banned in 2013 following conviction for tax fraud, the moment of truth is approaching, as Bloomberg reports.
Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi took his comeback bid to the European Court of Human Rights on Wednesday as his lawyers fought to make him eligible for next year’s Italian election. Judges at the court in Strasbourg, France, held a hearing on the 81-year-old Berlusconi’s appeal against a ban on running for public office that resulted from a 2013 tax-fraud conviction. The multi-billionaire has denied all wrongdoing.
Berlusconi wants the ban overturned in time for a general election due by late May. He is seeking to forge a center-right coalition after the vote and his hopes were boosted by victory in a regional ballot in Sicily this month.
Because it’s always good copy, the Bloomberg piece references Berlusconi’s long running legal battles which have not only included corruption charges but “allegedly sexual ‘bunga-bunga” parties, or “elegant dinners” according to the man himself. On more serious note, it goes on to outline Berlusconi’s grievance and the push back from the Italian state.
Berlusconi was stripped of his parliamentary seat with a vote in a Senate where his opponents were a majority, Edward Fitzgerald, one of Berlusconi’s lawyers, said in court, according to Italian newswire Ansa. It wasn’t justice but a “Roman amphitheater” in which a majority of thumbs down or thumbs up decided the person’s fate, Fitzgerald added. The law instituting the ban had been used retroactively, applied to alleged offenses years before the law was passed, added Fitzgerald, of Doughty Street Chambers in London.
Maria Giuliana Civinini, a lawyer for the Italian government, said that it had respected the European Convention on Human Rights, according to Ansa. “No violation can be attributed” to the government, she said. Berlusconi, who first made his appeal to the court in 2013, argues that the ban violates his rights under the Convention, Andrea Saccucci, another one of his lawyers, said in a phone interview before the hearing. The morning hearing is expected to end at about 12 p.m. Berlusconi did not attend.
Even if he’s successful, there’s a potentially large problem for Berlusconi. His case might take too long to make him eligible for the May elections.
“The court is unlikely to reach a verdict in time for the election,” said Andrea Montanino, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington. “But for Berlusconi this is also about creating a mood, to portray himself as a victim of the Italian judicial system he has always fought against.”
Saccucci said he couldn’t predict whether the court would reach a verdict in time for the election. “The court usually takes quite some time, at least eight to ten months, but we hope it will decide as soon as possible,” said Saccucci, a Rome-based lawyer who is an associate of Doughty Street Chambers.
Asked whether a verdict was likely by May 2018, the court’s press office said in an email: “It is impossible to speculate about the time frame within which the Grand Chamber will deliver its ruling on the case.”
The “Grand Chamber” cannot be rushed over such a serious matter. If the decision comes too late, Berlusconi’s bid for a fifth term as prime minister will be derailed. However, that might not prevent from playing a central role in the next Italian government…as “coach” not “striker”. Bloomberg explains.
Berlusconi has made his political ambitions clear, whatever and whenever the judges decide.
“I’ll be in the field!” Berlusconi tweeted on Nov. 16. “I’ll be the striker if I am eligible, otherwise I’ll be the coach.” Even if Berlusconi cannot run for office, he may end up calling the shots on forming a government.
“If no party wins a parliamentary majority as expected, the most likely coalition will be centered on Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the Democratic Party even though they are now rivals,” said Montanino, a former executive director for Italy at the International Monetary Fund. “Berlusconi may not be premier, but he could be king maker.”
Berlusconi has promised tax cuts, with a new flat tax “as low as possible”, a halt on illegal immigration and a fight against EU bureaucrats. The most recent opinion polls put a center-right coalition ahead of the anti-establishment Five Star and the center-left Democrats. However, none of the three would have a parliamentary majority. As CNBC reports, Berlusconi’s comeback is seen as a stabilizing force in financial markets.
Valentijn van Nieuwenhuijzen, head of multi-asset strategy at NN Investment Partners, told CNBC Wednesday.
“Anything that does not lead directly to Italy voting to move out of the euro zone will probably be seen by markets as not disruptive enough to worry about,” he said.
You’ve got to love Italy.