Politique Diabolique | Swindles & Scams May 20 2009
ABOVE THE LAW
An Italian court accuses Silvio Berlusconi of bribery—but can’t prosecute him.


Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi must have laughed himself silly when a court in Milan declared last night that he had bribed his lawyer David Mills in order to avoid corruption charges and retain illegal corporate profits. Berlusconi was accused of paying Mills 440,000€ in cash, which the lawyer then hid in a series of offshore accounts and shell companies. The money was paid during the late 1990s, when Mills was the star prosecution witness in two trials concerning the corrupt dealings of highly placed public officials. The Milanese court claimed he lied on those occasions to shield Berlusconi, and Mills himself acknowledged this when he claimed, “[I] kept Mr. B. out of a great deal of trouble he would have been in had I said all I knew.” Mills later retracted the statement, but the court decided there was more than a kernel of truth in it.

Though Mills’ testimony explicitly fingered the billionaire prime minister, Berlusconi—pay attention now, because this is where the laughter comes in—had pushed through a law last year that gives prime ministers blanket immunity from any kind of prosecution while they are in office. There's a second loophole as well—under Italian law, statues of limitations expire quickly, which is why David Mills will spend no time in jail despite his conviction, and why Berlusconi’s alleged crimes may no longer be prosecutable by the time he exits office. Berlusconi claimed he needed immunity because the many lawsuits brought against him have distracted him from his job, but his opponents say the constant accusations should be taken as a sign of Berlusconi’s corruption and are exactly why he should resign, rather than go about writing laws antithetical to the concept of democracy. For his part, the prime minister has had little to say about the commotion, but we have a feeling he's somewhere kicking back with a cappucino, smiling rather broadly.

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