Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was convicted in a wiretapping case related to the 2006 battle for control of Banca Nazionale del Lavoro SpA, the first of three corruption rulings he faces this month.
The verdict, televised from Milan today, carries a one-year prison sentence. Piero Longo, an Italian senator and one of Berlusconi’s lawyers, had no immediate comment when contacted by phone.
The spate of corruption rulings threatens to derail the career of the three-time prime minister, who has dominated Italian politics for two decades. This month a Milan court is set to rule on charges he engaged a minor in prostitution, while another appeals tribunal will decide whether to uphold a four-year sentence for tax fraud. Berlusconi has denied wrongdoing in all the cases.
“It’s really impossible to tolerate a judicial persecution that’s lasted 20 years,” Berlusconi said in an e-mailed statement. He called for a “complete reform of the judicial system” and said he aims to obtain justice on appeal.
The verdicts come at a time when Berlusconi is set to play a key role in trying to end a political impasse in Italy after inconclusive elections last month produced a hung parliament. President Giorgio Napolitano will begin consultations with Berlusconi and other political leaders aimed at finding a way out of the logjam around March 18, just when the prostitution verdict is due.
Berlusconi can appeal today’s verdict and is unlikely to serve jail time because Italian law doesn’t require prison sentences to be carried out until the appeals process is exhausted, which can take several years. In Italy the statute of limitations often kicks in before the appeals process concludes. The statute of limitations in this case runs out in July or August, news agency Ansa reported.
In the wiretapping case, Milan prosecutors accused Berlusconi of allegedly leaking transcripts of tapped phone calls related to a bank takeover fight to Il Giornale, a Milan newspaper owned by his brother Paolo, to discredit a political rival, according to a September 2011 statement by prosecutor Edmondo Bruti Liberati. Paolo Berlusconi was sentenced to two years and three months, Ansa said.
When Berlusconi was ordered to stand trial in February 2012, his lawyer Niccolo Ghedini described the accusations as “not credible.” Maurizio Gasparri, a former whip for Berlusconi’s party in the Chamber of Deputies, today called the verdict “ridiculous” because the former premier is a victim of “years of unauthorized” wiretapped conversations, according to an e-mailed statement.
The wiretaps were part of a separate probe in 2005 into whether local bankers broke securities laws in trying to block foreign bids for Italian banks. The recordings, ordered by Milan prosecutors, snared politicians on both sides of the aisle and led to the resignation of two of Italy’s top bankers and Bank of Italy Governor Antonio Fazio.
The transcripts refer to calls between Piero Fassino, who formerly headed the Democrats of the Left party, and a banker seeking support for a takeover bid for BNL in 2006. Fassino was recorded during a takeover fight for the bank between Spain’s Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA and Italy’s Compagnia Assicuratrice Unipol SpA.
BNL ultimately was acquired by BNP Paribas SA in 2006 for 9 billion euros ($11.7 billion).