The case against Berlusconi for corrupting his English lawyer, David Mills, the estranged husband of Tessa Jowell MP, has just been dropped for being timed-out. The pro-Berlusconi media in Italy are reporting this as Berlusconi being cleared. A bit of background will explain why this is not the case.
First of all the case: it is alleged that David Mills accepted a bribe of 600,000 US dollars from Berlusconi for perjuring himself on a separate case regarding offshore companies that allegedly avoided tax. Mills and Berlusconi were originally on trial together for this. However, following his return to power in 2008, Berlusconi’s majority in parliament passed a law to exempt the Prime Minister from criminal trials. This was immensely controversial because he had already passed such a law in 2003, which the Constitutional Court had quashed on the grounds of conflict with the Italian Constitution:
The result of reintroducing the law in 2008, in breach of the ruling of the Constitutional Court, was to remove Berlusconi from the trial, which then ran its course for David Mills only. It was alleged that Mills had received his bribe in February 2000. This date is important because, due to judicial reforms passed by Berlusconi, the crime of judicial corruption could no longer be punished after ten years. It would time out. The trial of Mills concluded just before the cut-off date of February 2010. At the final moment, Mills avoided conviction by admitting that agreement had been made on his perjury in November 1999, although the money had not been paid until February 2000. By admitting to the crime but proving that it had started to be committed some months earlier, the case was dismissed due to having passed the 10-year mark. If Mills had been corrupted, somebody must have been the corrupter.
Berlusconi’s trial as the alleged corrupter was able to restart separately once the Constitutional Court again annulled his immunity law for infringing the Constitution. On Saturday, the trial judge in Milan ruled the case against him as corrupter has expired. The issue rests on whether the two years during which he had unconstitutional immunity from prosecution (and in which the trial of Mills continued) can count towards the ten years after which a Court can no longer hold someone liable for the crime of judicial corruption.
If readers are still awake at the end of this explanation, they should congratulate themselves. One reason why Berlusconi is able to survive very serious criminal charges of this kind is that the details are always complicated. The easiest response is to fall asleep and accept the untruth that he and David Mills have been found not guilty.
Following the next elections in 2013, the Italian Parliament will elect Italy’s next President of the Republic. Is Berlusconi fit to be the Head of State of Europe’s fourth largest economy? Perhaps I should also mention that he is still on trial for under-age prostitution and for abuse of office. In Italy prostitution is legal so long as the prostitute is over 18. Charge of abuse of office relates to when the alleged under-age prostitute (a Moroccan citizen who had run away from home at the age of 15) was arrested for theft in Milan. As Prime Minister, Berlusconi is alleged to have secured her release by telephoning the police commander and ordering him to release her, spinning a story that she was Hosni Mubarak’s granddaughter and that her detention would cause a diplomatic incident.
You could not make it up.