Oct. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi was indicted by a judge in Naples on charges he bribed a senator to help topple then-Premier Romano Prodi in 2008.
The trial will start in Naples Feb. 11, his lawyer Michele Cerabona said by phone. Prosecutors allege Berlusconi paid former Senator Sergio De Gregorio 3 million euros ($4.1 million) from at least 2007 to help bring down Prodi, who governed with a thin majority until 2008, when he lost a confidence vote in the Senate after defections. Cerabona and Niccolo Ghedini, another Berlusconi lawyer, said they are confident the trial will show the accusations are groundless, according to a statement after the court decision.
Berlusconi, whose tax-fraud conviction was rendered final on Aug. 1, faces the charge of corruption in the Naples trial. The former premier is appealing separate convictions in Milan for illegal wiretapping and sex with a minor. His legal problems have increased tensions within Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s coalition.
The three-time premier has repeatedly threatened to bring down the government if Letta’s Democratic Party votes to expel him from the Senate following his definitive tax-fraud ruling. The Senate will vote in the next few weeks on whether to strip him of his Senate seat. Letta this month won a confidence vote in parliament as Berlusconi’s attempt to topple the premier was thwarted by divisions in the billionaire’s party.
Investigators are reviewing 3 million euros of payments, two of which were in cash, allegedly made to De Gregorio, according to court documents.
“I committed crimes, I had the courage to say so,” De Gregorio, elected in 2006 with Prodi’s coalition, told reporters March 11, admitting he was paid 2 million euros in cash. “The Prodi government would have fallen anyway.”
Berlusconi’s party and De Gregorio had a legitimate political agreement and there were no illegal payments, the lawyers said. The statute of limitations for the alleged crime kicks in after seven and 1/2 years, Cerabona said. It may take effect in September 2015, according to La Stampa. A verdict by the top court, after all appeals are exhausted, would have to come before that to make any conviction final.
Today Judge Amelia Primavera accepted a plea bargain for De Gregorio, who was sentenced to 20 months.
Berlusconi, 77, has denied all the charges against him, saying they amount to political persecution. His four-year prison sentence for tax fraud regarding the purchase of broadcasting rights by his Mediaset group has already been reduced to one year due to a law against prison overcrowding and will probably be converted into house arrest or community service.
“The strategy of a part of the judiciary is clear, and so are its goals,” Mara Carfagna, a lawmaker and spokeswoman for Berlusconi’s party in the Chamber of Deputies, said in an e-mailed statement after the court’s decision.