When the Italian Senate voted on 27 November to expel Silvio Berlusconi, former prime minister of Italy, media billionaire and the dominating force in Italian politics for the past two decades, they also took away the special immunity to legal prosecution afforded to lawmakers. It sent out a strong message: no one is above the law.
For years Berlusconi has dodged the judiciary. Many believed that his conviction for tax fraud in October 2012 would not be upheld in August this year but it was, forcing the vote on his expulsion from the Senate.
Berlusconi has, over the years, not only profited from his parliamentary immunity to stay out of jail, but also from his political power to amend laws and reduce statutes of limitations on corruption cases to avoid prosecution.
This should now stop. The rule of law, the very foundation of a strong democracy, should now be applied to Berlusconi in the same way it would apply to any ordinary citizen. He does, of course, have the wealth to fund the best legal defence, but he no longer has the power to change laws in his favour. A Milan court has barred him from holding public office for two years.
National integrity at stake
Transparency International undertook a study of the main institutions in Italy as part of our European-wide assessment of how well countries fight corruption. Strengthening the judiciary, maintaining its independence from the executive and enforcing anti-corruption laws were key recommendations for Italy.
The government has finally approved the Anti-Corruption Law in Italy, but has done little to implement it and there are no mechanisms in place for monitoring its enforcement.
Corruption is a cross-cutting issue in Italy and it affects the entire society. That someone as powerful as Berlusconi can be convicted of tax fraud and serve a prison sentence should act as a sign that there is no impunity. This could go some way to restore the confidence of the people in the judicial system – and moreover, in Italian democracy.
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