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Italian Senate poised to expel Berlusconi for tax fraud


Former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi on Wednesday is set to face a Senate vote which will likely see the billionaire tycoon kicked out of parliament for tax fraud.


Italy’s former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi will face a Senate vote on Wednesday which observers say will likely see the billionaire tycoon stripped of his seat in parliament on the back of his tax fraud conviction.

Berlusconi has in vain tried to delay the vote by claiming he has new evidence that could prompt a judicial review of his August conviction.

The 77-year-old media billionaire, who has dominated politics for two decades, on Tuesday pulled his party out of Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s ruling coalition after seven months in government, accusing leftwing opponents of mounting a “coup d’etat” to eliminate him.

The Senate is due to vote at around 7.00 p.m. (1800 GMT) on whether to declare Berlusconi ineligible for parliament after he was convicted of masterminding a complex system of illegally inflated invoices to cut the tax bill for his Mediaset television empire.

Banned from holding public office

The court sentenced him to four years in jail, commuted to a year performing community service, and he was also banned from holding public office for two years, preventing any immediate return to government.

Under a law passed with Berlusconi’s support last year, politicians convicted of serious criminal offences are ineligible for parliament, but his expulsion must first be confirmed by a full vote in the Senate.

Both Letta’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and former comedian Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment 5-Star Movement have declared they will vote against Berlusconi, making it virtually certain that he will be expelled.

His removal will have little immediate impact on Letta’s government, which survived a confidence vote on the 2014 budget on Tuesday with the help of a group of some 30 centre-right senators who broke away from Berlusconi’s party this month.

But it will heighten the political tensions that have hampered any serious reforms to Italy’s stagnant economy, struggling with youth unemployment of more than 40 percent and stuck in a recession that has lasted more than two years.

Likely to remain a troublemaker

Once outside, Berlusconi is likely to remain a troublesome opponent for the government, much like Grillo, who does not sit in parliament but who keeps up a steady stream of attacks in public meetings and on his widely read blog.

Berlusconi’s lawyers dismiss as “completely unrealistic” the possibility that, once his parliamentary immunity is lifted, he may face arrest over a series of other cases, including paying for sex with a minor.

Supporters feel a clear sense of injustice and say he has been targeted by leftist judges who have attempted to subvert the political process. On Wednesday, thousands of protestors are expected to gather outside the Senate and around Berlusconi’s luxury home to protest the vote.

“Berlusconi is a victim of an unjust, anti-democratic battle,” said Forza Italia deputy Annagrazia Calabria. “Nobody can take away the consensus of millions and millions of Italians, all his followers who still believe in him and who have stayed by his side.”

Rocky relations

Berlusconi joined Letta’s Democratic Party in an unlikely coalition after the deadlocked February election which left no side able to form a government on its own.

However, relations were rocky from the start, worsened by rows over tax policy and tensions over Berlusconi’s tax fraud conviction, only one of a number of legal problems facing the former premier.

The split in his centre-right party, now rebranded under its original name Forza Italia, may have removed the immediate threat to Letta, who has won two confidence votes in parliament since Berlusconi’s conviction.

But the government now faces the prospect of a wearying battle with an opposition that is likely to become more bitter in tone with the approach of European parliamentary elections in May, the next major test of support for the government.


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