Italian court overturns law preventing trial of Prime Minister Berlusconi

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Silvio Berlusconi, photographed last year, now faces prosecution

Italy's Constitutional Court has overturned a law that granted Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi immunity from being prosecuted. There are at least three court cases that can now proceed against him, including a corruption trial.

There had been speculation in the media that Berlusconi would resign if the law was struck down, but a spokesman said "Berlusconi, the government and the majority will continue to govern." The spokesman went on to call the decision "a political verdict," and Berlusconi has commented he expected the result because of left-wing leanings by the judges.

The panel of fifteen judges took two days to reach their decision. There is no appeals process to try and save the law, which gave immunity to the Prime Minister, President and two parliamentary speakers for as long as they held office.

Despite suggestions from the PM's lawyers that he may resign if the ruling went against him, Berlusconi said that "We go ahead," and that he felt "invigorated" by the ruling. He called the allegations he now faces in court a "real farce".

The law had halted a trial in Milan that he bribed a UK lawyer for favourable testimony in a separate corruption probe. One of the other two trials he faces involves alleged bribes to senators.

Berlusconi had an earlier version of the law overturned in 2004, and the latest decision rejects another passed last year. The court said it would breach the constitution's requirement of equality before the law, and added that as a constitutional change required for more legal process than being passed in parliament.

Berlusconi is considering running for President, which would extend his immunity for several more years under other laws. Although his opinion poll support has dropped recently he remains popular, despite allegations of media manipulation and sexual activities with prostitutes and a teenage model. A billionaire businessman, he is the longest-serving Prime Minister since the second world war.