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Last Updated: Friday, 10 December 2004, 11:42 GMT
Berlusconi calm as verdict looms

By Tamsin Smith,
BBC News, Rome

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
Silvio Berlusconi says he is confident he will not be convicted
Relaxed and smiling, Silvio Berlusconi appeared at a book launch on Thursday, apparently delighted to find himself an indelible benchmark of Italian history.

No signs of concern from a man at risk of conviction on criminal charges. From Mussolini To Berlusconi was the title which loomed poster-size in black and white behind the podium.

"The next book you write will have to be From Julius Caesar to Berlusconi," he joked to his friend, the author and television host Bruno Vespa.

But this was less of a book club, and more of a platform for Mr Berlusconi's future plans.

Changes in the electoral laws, a proposed confidence vote on finance plans were some of the surprise announcements that caused flurry of excitement in the Italian press, ensuring acres of newspaper headlines and the relegation of the imminent verdict to the inside pages.

I haven't seen much about this verdict on the Italian television. I think it's because our prime minister controls most of our media so we know we don't get the whole picture
"I deserve a medal for enduring this trial," was the prime minister's comment about the looming judgement in his corruption trial.

"I am calm," he added, speaking to reporters. "I don't believe there will be a conviction."

His lawyers say they are confident he will be acquitted.

Mr Berlusconi has consistently maintained his innocence in a case which has poisoned Italian politics for the past four years.

The charges date back to the 1980s, before Berlusconi the businessman added politics to his CV.

He stands accused of bribing judges in order to win a favourable ruling for his business empire Fininvest during the 1980s.

One of his closest associates, Cesare Previti was found guilty of "general bribery" in a parallel trial last year and sentenced to five years in jail.

Prosecutors have called for an eight-year prison sentence for Mr Berlusconi, who says he is the victim of a witch-hunt by left-wing magistrates.

Judges in Milan are now considering their verdict, but many experts say the outcome is unlikely to be as simple as "guilty" or "not guilty". There are various shades of guilt and responsibility in between that also form possibly scenarios.


Most people agree it is very unlikely that the prime minister would ever serve a sentence. The tortuous process of Italy's appeals system means that a statute of limitations is triggered, effectively shelving the case.

Prosecutors Ilda Boccassini (left) and Gherardo Colombo at hearing
Prosecutors want Berlusconi jailed for eight years
But any verdict other than a complete acquittal would be an embarrassment for Mr Berlusconi, who plans to meet UK Prime Minister Tony Blair in London next week and US President George Bush on 15 December. Opposition parties would be quick to leap on this and call for a resignation, although the prime minister has already made it clear he has no intention of stepping down, whatever the verdict.

Whilst the politicians sharpen their claws, public opinion is more sanguine.

"Berlusconi's troubles with the judiciary are part of ongoing political life here in Italy," explains politics Professor Franco Pavoncello.

"Although this trial can be whipped up into a political fury, the general public as a whole are much more apathetic."

"Berlusconi will never ever go to prison," says Massimiliano, a lawyer enjoying his lunch break in a piazza in Rome.

"Politicians here know very well how to save themselves... and he has been acquitted three times before he was a politician after being charged."

Mafia ruling

Francesco, a 17-year-old student says: "I haven't seen much about this verdict on the Italian television. I think it's because our prime minister controls most of our media, so we know we don't get the whole picture."

"I don't care what the judges decide," says Marco, a barman. "If he's done something then it's his business in his private functions... and has nothing to do with his public role."

Francesca, a consultant, disagrees.

"This verdict is very important for us and for Italy's image in the world," she says.

Another potentially embarrassing verdict for the government is looming in a separate case. On Saturday, judges in the Sicilian city of Palermo will rule on whether one of the founders of the prime minister's Forza Italia party, Senator Marcello D'Utri, is guilty of association with the mafia.

Judges urged to jail Berlusconi
12 Nov 04 |  Europe
Profile: Silvio Berlusconi
13 Jan 04 |  Europe
Country profile: Italy
26 Mar 03 |  Country profiles

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