Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi on Monday requested a review of his tax fraud trial head of a vote this week that will likely force him from parliament for the first time in 20 years and make him vulnerable to arrest.
The three-time former prime minister and billionaire tycoon warned fellow senators against voting for his expulsion, saying such a decision “would shame you in front of your children, your voters and all Italians”.
Berlusconi said holding the vote before a review of his conviction would be an “indelible stain” for the parliament and said the parliamentarians should bear in mind the vote was “not about me but about democracy”.
“You would expel from parliament a political leader who has been prime minister several times and who has represented Italy on the international stage,” the 77-year-old, who appeared determined but measured, said at a press conference in Rome.
Berlusconi said he had obtained new testimonies from the United States that questioned his conviction from the supreme court in August in a case over the purchase of film distribution rights by his company, Mediaset.
“These documents will allow us to make a request for a review at the appeals court,” Berlusconi said, adding that they “completely undermine the basis” of the case.
“I am not planning to flee,” Berlusconi said, asked about a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin later on Monday and rumours that the Kremlin leader could offer him travel documents to leave Italy.
The Italian Senate is expected to hold a vote on Wednesday for Berlusconi’s expulsion, which would see the political leader forced to leave parliament for the first time since he was first elected in 1994.
“It is highly likely that the vote will go ahead, although Berlusconi’s people are trying every sort of delaying tactic,” James Walston, a professor at the American University in Rome, told AFP.
“If the vote goes ahead, then he will be expelled.”
Experts said the expulsion would also leave Berlusconi far more vulnerable to arrest in the multiple legal cases against him without parliamentary immunity.
The vote stems from a new law to clean up politics amid plunging rates of public support. It was approved last year with votes from Berlusconi’s own party.
Some analysts have warned the former leader’s public downfall could rock the coalition and could open the government to a more open opposition from Berlusconi.
“The government cannot claim to be safe from the impact” of such a “dramatic vote, a historic moment”, the influential Corriere della Sera daily said.
But others say it will mean the end of Berlusconi.
“November 28 signals the real beginning of the post-Berlusconi era,” Il Messaggero daily said, adding that the flamboyant tycoon had been “the main obstacle that has gradually led Italy into paralysis”.
Fears that this week’s vote would bring down the government have however been allayed by a split in Berlusconi’s ranks led by one of his former proteges, Deputy Prime Minister Angelino Alfano.
Alfano has said he and his supporters will vote against Berlusconi’s expulsion but will stay in the left-right coalition even if the vote goes against him.
Without Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Go Italy) party, the government’s Senate majority could fall to just 10 seats, even though it will continue to enjoy wide support in the lower house Chamber of Deputies.
At a meeting with young supporters on Saturday, Berlusconi accused his leftist rivals of engineering a “coup d’etat” against him through the courts.
He said President Giorgio Napolitano should pardon him, arguing that the idea of doing a year of community service as part of his punishment for tax fraud was “a humiliation for me, and also for the country”.
Berlusconi is currently appealing convictions for having sex for money with an underage 17-year-old prostitute, abusing the powers of the prime minister’s office and publishing a police wiretap in one of his newspapers to damage a political rival.
He is also facing a new trial for bribing a senator to join his party’s ranks and could come under investigation for alleged pay-offs made to the young women who took part in raunchy “bunga bunga” parties at his villa in exchange for favourable testimony.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]