Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Berlusconi: some moderate and reasonable comments

The irony of Berlusconi's current travails is that the accusations levelled at him are rather less serious than some of those he has faced in the past. Most of his many previous brushes with justice have involved accusations of bribery, corruption, tax evasion, and false accounting. These offences are much harder to prove than the rather simple criminal charges in this case: anybody with any skill in the field of corruption - and Berlusconi is clearly a master - can cover up the traces of their involvement in a variety of ways, so that absolute proof is almost impossible. In Italy's legal system, a good lawyer can find a variety of ways of casting doubt on verdicts so that they are either overturned on appeal, or the proceedings drag on for so long that the statute of limitations (or in some cases, changes in legislation passed by Berlusconi's party) get the accused off the hook.

Here, instead, the matter is quite simple. Berlusconi paid for sex with an underage prostitute, and when she was arrested for another offence, he rang the police responsible telling them to release her because she was Hosni Muburak's niece (no irony there). The prosecuting magistrates have booked a quick trial on the grounds that the proof is so evident that there is no need for full committal proceedings. Maybe this time they'll get him - although no doubt Ghedini and the rest of Berlusconi's legal team (who are also MPs on his ticket) are thinking of subtle ways of challenging the charges (one of which is, apparently, questioning the girl's true age).

Now however revolting the accusations may be on moral grounds, there is a strong case that this particular offence is the least damaging of all the ones of which Berlusconi is accused. After all, damage here is limited to just a few individuals (although there are others, but no charges have been brought so far), whereas the various financial and political corruption scandals Berlusconi has been involved with previously wrought vast harm on the Italian political and economic system. This is not to underestimate how gross it is to exploit underage women in that way, but here the harm is essentially private, whereas as in many of the other cases, third parties were harmed in very obvious ways.

So, the irony is that Berlusconi seems most likely to fall on the least egregious of his multitude of sins (although that's clearly a matter of opinion). Having proved impossible to pin him down for colossal abuses of political and economic power and subversion of the legal process, Berlusconi may end up falling over a less serious crime.

Where have we seen that before?