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Berlusconi Says Immunity for Premier ‘Absolutely Essential’

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Oct. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is on trial for corruption, said a law that shields the premier and the president from criminal prosecution is “essential” because magistrates are politically biased.

A Senate committee in Rome this week is voting on a bill to change the constitution and protect the country’s two highest institutional offices from prosecution. Berlusconi’s comments were made last week to television personality Bruno Vespa and are to be published in Vespa’s latest book in November. Vespa sent an advance copy of the comments by e-mail.

“A law that suspends trials against those who hold the state’s top offices as they carry out their institutional duties is needed,” Berlusconi said. “Given the type of prosecutors we have to deal with, it’s absolutely essential.”

Since coming to power in 2008, Berlusconi’s allies have passed two immunity measures for the prime minister. The first was struck down by the Constitutional Court, which is scheduled to rule on the second one in December. A third measure now being debated in the Senate seeks to change the constitution to avoid conflict with Italy’s 1948 legal framework, which states “the law is the same for everyone.”

Chamber of Deputies Speaker Gianfranco Fini, who leads a group of lawmakers that left Berlusconi’s party in July, has said he’d give necessary backing to the immunity measure as long as it applies for only one term. Fini yesterday said the government risks collapsing over justice issues. Berlusconi has pledged to present a constitutional overhaul of the justice system this week.

‘Political Tool’

Berlusconi says prosecutors are trying to undermine his government. “Let me just say once more that once again the justice system is being used as a political tool to denigrate the prime minister,” Berlusconi told Vespa.

Berlusconi has faced a dozen trials since first coming to power in 1994. The Milan court is trying Berlusconi for allegedly paying $600,000 to U.K. lawyer David Mills to lie under oath on his behalf, and separately for committing tax fraud in moving money to offshore companies used to purchase movie rights from Hollywood production companies. He denies any wrongdoing, and both trials are currently suspended.

Earlier this month, Rome prosecutors said they were probing Berlusconi and his son, Pier Silvio, for tax fraud.

“The accusation is that there was tax evasion for less than 1 million euros ($1.4 million) when that year -- 2004 -- my group paid 448 million euros in taxes,” Berlusconi said. “I’ve been assured that the discrepancy is due to a different interpretation of the tax code by our accountants, and by the tax collection agency.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Steve Scherer at sscherer@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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