A New Law is Born?
Our dear friend Silvio Berlusconi is, if nothing else, a very loyal man. He looks after his friends and family in the true style of a gentleman Man of Honour. The most recent development in the long saga of how the Prime Minister of Italy runs the country he is currently “in charge of” is in the protection of one of his oldest, most staunch friends and confidantes, Cesare Previti. Previti was one of Berlusconi’s lawyers for many years, protecting and defending his client through the development of his business empire. He was repaid with a seat in Berlusconi’s first attempt at government – an attempt brought down at the time by the somewhat xenophobic Lega Nord. Short lived though this initial appointment was, it led to Cesare Previti becoming elected to the Chamber of Deputies, so it didn’t work out too badly for him in the end.
That was up until an investigation into bribery and corruption, leading to his conviction for the bribing of a judge in Roma on behalf of Berlusconi in a take-over bid of Mondadori, the company which has Marina Berlusconi as its President. Fortunately for Berlusconi, he just escaped conviction of the same crime by the enactment of a law giving him (surprise, surprise) protection from criminal charges through the clever use of yet another statute of limitations clause. That was a bit of good fortune for Berlusconi, of course, as he would have most likely suffered the same fate as Cesare Previti if the case had proceeded as intended by the legal system of the time.
But, Berlusconi being the man that he is – loyal I mean, of course – he hasn’t deserted his old friend to the 11 year prison sentence he was first awarded for the bribing of judge Vittorio Metta to look kindly on Berlusconi’s tactics during the take-over battle with Carlo De Benedetti.
There is a law presently going through the Italian parliament, pushed along by Berlusconi’s Justice Minister, Roberto Castelli, called the “Save Previti Law" by opponents of the law, which will come to the aid of his friend - a true “Friend in Need”. The new law will cut in half the timescale within which convictions for many criminal offences can be pursued by the Italian courts. Now, the legal system in Italy has long been somewhat of a confusing matter for those of us brought up outside of “Roman Law”. Suffice it to say that the law here is very much more a discussive affair than elsewhere, with the courts often taking many years to prosecute miscreants and even longer before the process of automatic appeals is exhausted and the convicted criminal actually goes to prison. That is, of course, assuming you happen to have the funds available to pay the lawyers that will keep delaying the appeal process up to the actual moment you have to serve your “time”.
This is where the new law comes in. By cutting in half the time during which the courts can hear the action, it actually stops the whole legal process whilst the wheels are still turning. How this would affect Previti is by bringing the entire action, still going through the appeal courts, to a grinding halt - thereby making him a free man again, in much the same way as his old Boss got let off. All that without having the stain of a conviction against his name. It would be quite a success for Berlusconi in defending his old friend.
The problem (if I may leave aside the whole matter of whether a convicted bribester should be allowed to walk free in any case) is that it will affect many thousands of other court cases presently in process. The Court of Cassation estimates that of 3,365 cases currently pending, as many as 1,652 may be killed if the law passes through the system unscathed. This includes cases of manslaughter, corruption, fraud and criminal violence. Nearly 90 per cent of the corruption cases currently before the court would have to be disbanded as “out of time”. One well known judge commented wryly, "We will be able to finish our work before lunch".
The reaction by Previti has been fairly predictable, in a "Berlusconi" sort of way. The opponents of the law are, according to Previti of course, “untrustworthy”, saying that he considers the new law to be a major step forward for Italy. Perhaps he has changed his name from Cesare Previti to “Italy” now?