By David Sophrin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
ROME, Italy – The Constitutional Court in Italy began hearing arguments on Tuesday as to whether the legal immunity that was given to Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is in violation of the nation’s constitution. The court’s final ruling could have far reaching political implications for the Prime Minister.
The law in question, also known as the Alfano Law, protects the top four national public officials, including the Prime Minister, President, and the Speakers of both Houses of Parliament, from prosecution while they hold office. This law was passed by political supporters of the Prime Minister in the Italian parliament soon after his re-election.
Prior to the passage of the immunity laws, there were numerous legal proceedings pending against Berlusconi. Those actions include an allegation that Berlusconi bribed a British lawyer to give false testimony to protect the Prime Minister’s business interests. Other cases involved tax fraud, false accounting, and domestic corruption charges. Yet another claim was concluded prior to the passage of the immunity law, where a Milan court imposed damages against Berlusconi’s family for attempting to bribe a judge. Prosecutors in Milan and Palermo are also investigating the Prime Minister’s alleged ties to organized crime. These legal actions will recommence if the Alfano Law is struck down.
The opponents of the immunity law allege that the law was passed with the specific intention to protect Berlusconi from looming legal entanglements.
Berlusconi has denied wrongdoing in all of the allegations against him and has expressed no intention of considering resignation in the event the immunity law is struck down. Despite continued allegations of corruption through his term as Prime Minister, Berlusconi has maintained a domestic approval rating above 50 percent.
The 15-member Court is expected to announce its verdict within two weeks. In the event that the Court upholds the immunity, political opponents have announced the possibility of pushing for a national referendum on the law.
For more information, please see:
CNN – Court to rule on Berlusconi’s immunity law – 6 October 2009
FINANCIAL TIMES – Italy’s top court weighs Berlusconi’s immunity – 6 October 2009
REUTERS – Italy’s top court debates Berlusconi immunity law – 6 October 2009
TELEGRAPH – Silvio Berlusconi’s lawyers: Italian PM is above the law – 9 October 2009
THE TIMES – Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi ‘could resign’ if immunity law struck down – 18 September 2009