Silvio Berlusconi may be a rascal, but not even rascals deserve to be railroaded. As I write, we still don’t know the verdict of Italy’s Supreme Court on the charge of tax evasion leveled against him and his company Mediaset. It was expected earlier today (Tuesday) but it may be postponed. If convicted, he could be imprisoned, and he would almost certainly be barred from office for five years
What we know already, however, are some fascinating facts that are relevant to the verdict. The first is the number of charges leveled against Mr. Berlusconi by Italy’s left-wing judiciary over the years. It is, give or take the odd accusation, an impressive 480.
And that is just the beginning. We can break down that figure into quite compelling statistical comparisons. Mr. Berlusconi became Italy’s prime minister for the first of three times in 1994. In that year he defeated a left-wing alliance in which former Communists were the single largest party and which had been confident of finally getting to govern Italy only a few months before. Now, knowing that, how many times do you think that Berlusconi was required to appear in court before 1994? And how many times between 1994 and today?
Sorry, not even close. The answers are 0 and 2,800 respectively.
For 19 years Berlusconi managed to combine being prime minister (three times) and leader of the opposition with a successful career as full-time permanent defendant. Tom Wolfe never imagined a Great White Defendant of his stature. And in all those years he managed to avoid final conviction even if he sometimes lost cases in the lower courts. (Another appeal is still pending.) He refutes the iron-clad certainty of out-of-control over-zealous prosecutors that if you throw enough charges at someone, the court is bound to think they must be guilty of something.
Or does he?
Today he is waiting for the Supreme Court verdict on the accusation that his company failed to pay 7 million euros in legitimate taxes in 2002–2003. Now, consider this statistic: In that year Mediaset paid 517 million euros in taxation. Mr. Berlusconi is generally reckoned to be clever. Ditto his lawyers and accountants. Why would any of them risk jail over a measly 7 million more?
The case stinks. And if the verdict goes against Berlusconi, then the politicized Italian justice system stinks even more. It has been waging a political vendetta in legalistic drag against him for 19 years because he deprived the Communists of power for most of that period. And that’s a worst offense against justice than anything of which Berlusconi has been accused (including the alleged fling with “Ruby the Heart-Stealer.”)
Berlusconi may be a bastard, but he’s our bastard; and Italy’s principal bastards may be lawyers and judges, but they’re still bastards.