The Last Tycoon's Luck Runs Out?
I've been obsessed with Silvio Berlusconi ever since I read "The Sack of Rome" by Alexander Stille. It's incredible that someone so corrupt, so obviously a thief, so clearly in politics to enrich himself and save himself from personal harm, was able to become Prime Minister, and do so entirely on the back of his own media empire and public relations effort. In the book, Stille details that Berlusconi basically entered politics to ensure that he not lose his business or suffer from prosecution for his past illegal actions. He immediately set to work on having his puppets in Parliament pass laws to that effect. A huge blow to those efforts occurred yesterday, as the pillar of his protective bubble - an immunity law for himself - was ruled unconstitutional by Italy's top court.
Italy was cast back into political turmoil tonight when the country's constitutional court threw out a law passed by Silvio Berlusconi's government that gave him immunity from prosecution for as long as he remained prime minister.
The majority decision represented a severe blow for Berlusconi, who was already struggling to contain the damage from a lurid sex and drugs scandal in which he is accused of using the services of prostitutes.
With some of Berlusconi's associates claiming that the judges of the country's top court had joined a plot to remove him, there was also a clear risk that Italy could be plunged into a constitutional crisis.
In a statement, the prime minister dampened speculation of an early election. He said the decision had not in any way altered his "will to carry on" in government.
He said: "I cannot but respect the response from the constitutional court." But he appeared to foreshadow an attempt to bring the court under tighter political control when he said that "this system, and above all the way in which the members of the court are chosen, risks upsetting over time the correct balance between the powers of the state".
Fabrizio Cicchitto, the leader of Berlusconi's party in the lower house of parliament, blamed the outcome on a "process of politicisation of the court which is joining the line of attack against prime minister Berlusconi".
This is what they always do when the law breathes down their necks. They cry politicization, just as they did with the magistrates in Milan who were closing in on Berlusconi. In that case, it worked, and this may as well. In a way, he's already won. Italy has a law that you cannot be jailed if you are over the age of 70. Berlusconi delayed the tax evasion case against him long enough to hit that milestone.
The BBC has more. Berlusconi's reign is fascinating and depressing.