8 years after being sentenced for tax fraud by the Supreme Court, which cost Berlusconi his position as senator, the European Court of Human Rights questions Italy. Was the former PM given a fair trial?
Did Mr Silvio Berlusconi receive his trial before an independent, impartial and legally constitutional court?
Did he have the right to a fair trial?
Was he given enough time to prepare his defence?
These are some of the 10 questions the European Court of Human Rights asked the Italian government. The government must respond by 15th September.
Eight years since Berlusconi sentenced for tax fraud
It is nearly 8 years since the Supreme Court sentenced Berlusconi to 4 years imprisonment for tax fraud. The sentence cost the founder of the Forza Italia and former Prime Minister his position as Senator.
The long and complex legal matter continues to occupy the judges of Strasbourg. They only recently reopened the file 8683/14 entitled “Berlusconi against Italy”. It had been lying on their desks since the beginning of 2014.
In the meantime, the former PM served his sentence and was re-elected to the European Parliament. However, the 2013 verdict continues to have lasting effects for him. For example, whether Berlusconi can own more than 10% in Banca Mediolanum as he was convicted of tax fraud and therefore has lost his integrity as a majority shareholder of the group.
To try and remove this obstacle, Berlusconi’s lawyers proposed a review of the Milan trial to the court of appeal in Brescia. This appears to be a rather complicated affair, with the slow pace of European appeals; they therefore continue the road to Strasbourg.
Reconstruction of the facts
The large and highly qualified group of lawyers, made up of Andrea Saccucci, Franco Coppi, Niccolo Ghedini, Bruno Nascimbene, Keir Starmer and Steven Powles, presented to the court a reconstruction of the facts. These, together with 3 statute limitations for some disputed crimes, led to the Berlusconi being found guilty by the court and the court of appeal in MIlan in 2012 and 2013 respectively. The Supreme Court confirmed the sentence in the summer of the same year.
The chronology is also supported by a series of alleged violations of the rights of the defence. These include the failure to recognise the legitimate impediment of the former PM to participate in 5 hearings. Plus, the drastic cut of witnesses requested by the defence. And let’s not forget the rejection for the trial to move to another location. Plus, the failure to translate some documents from abroad into Italian.
These complaints have already been presented to the Italian judges and were rejected. The lawyers, having received the final verdict did not give up believing some principles enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights have been violated. And so, they continue their battle in Strasbourg.
Italian government asked for written responses
The judges, after a 7 year admissibility check, decided to ask the Italian Government for an account of Berlusconi’s “grievances” and for written responses to their questions.
Was the action for which Berlusconi was convicted, asks the court, a crime under national law at the time it was committed?
Did he receive a heavier penalty than that applicable at the time the violation was committed, due to the failure to apply extenuating circumstances?
Has the applicant been tried twice?
Italy will predictably answer no. Berlusconi’s defenders will reply to the government’s observations in a written contradiction that will precede the final verdict.