Accusers line up as Berlusconi faces latest battle

Silvio Berlusconi has denied the charges against him. Picture: AP
Silvio Berlusconi has denied the charges against him. Picture: AP
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Silvio Berlusconi’s political corruption trial opened yesterday in Naples, the latest legal challenge for the three-time former Italian premier.

Berlusconi and another defendant are accused in the trial of paying a senator €3 million euros (about £2.4m) to switch parties, weakening a rival government that eventually fell.

Berlusconi, 77, who denies the charge, did not attend the opening session.

The media mogul remains an influential political force in Italy despite being stripped of his Senate seat for a tax fraud conviction in the autumn. He still faces a prison sentence in that case, and a court is expected to assign him a year of community service after the original four-year sentence was reduced in a general amnesty.

The corruption case has ignited a new political storm in Rome after the Senate president Pietro Grasso announced the legislative body would seek to be a civil party in the case, as permitted by Italian law. Mr Grasso has been accused of partisanship over the move.

The court is expected to decide today whether to accept the Senate’s petition.

Also seeking to be a civil plaintiff in the case is the Italy of Values party, which politician Sergio de Gregorio left to join Berlusconi’s centre-right People of Freedom party.

The tiny party’s former leader, Antonio di Pietro, told the court that former prime minister Romano Prodi’s second government, which included the Italy of Values party, “fell not due to criminal reasons but for a criminal act, an act of corruption”.

Mr De Gregorio has acknowledged accepting €3m between 2006 and 2008. Mr Prodi and numerous other Italian politicians are expected to be called as witnesses.

Meanwhile, Italy’s parliament yesterday rejected an attempt by the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement to impeach president Giorgio Napolitano, but opposition lawmakers kept up their attacks on the 88-year-old head of state.

Mr Napolitano, widely credited with steering Italy through the turbulence of the eurozone crisis, has faced growing criticism from the 5-Star Movement and Berlusconi’s refounded ­centre-right Forza Italia party.

Both accuse him of exceeding his constitutional powers to engineer the appointment of Mario Monti’s technocrat government at the height of the ­eurozone crisis in 2011, saying that he acted with the connivance of German chancellor ­Angela Merkel.

Forza Italia deputies abstained in yesterday’s vote in a parliamentary committee which rejected the 5-Star Movement’s impeachment request.

Forza Italia has been particularly outraged by reports this week that Mr Napolitano was in touch with Mr Monti months before the fall of Berlusconi’s government in November 2011 just as the debt crisis threatened to slip entirely out of control.

The party has said that the reports, based on a forthcoming book on the crisis, show that Mr Napolitano, a former communist, plotted to remove Berlusconi, who resigned after a split in his party left him without a majority in parliament.

Renato Brunetta, Forza Italia’s floor leader in the lower house of parliament, said: “We want the truth. We’ve had enough of this story put together by the so-called winners, this story put together by Angela Merkel’s Germany and this German-led Europe.”