Plenty of flash at lightning-brief start of Berlusconi trial
The latest case against Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi, who faces charges of sexual misconduct, was adjourned within minutes, but outside the court was a raucous amalgam of protesters and police.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's trial on charges of sexual misconduct and abuse of power was adjourned Wednesday just eight minutes after it began, offering a stark example of just how slowly Italian justice can move.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Berlusconi, who faces up to 15 years in prison if found guilty of paying for sex with an underage prostitute and then trying to cover up the alleged liaisons, did not appear at the Milan court. Nor did Karima el-Mahroug, the young woman at the center of the allegations.
The brief hearing touched on procedural matters before the three judges adjourned until May 31. That will give them time to consider a request by a women’s organization, Arcidonna, to be admitted as a civil party to the case on the basis that Berlusconi’s behavior has “offended the dignity” of all Italian women.
Indeed, the Berlusconi case has become a rallying cry for opponents of the controversial prime minister and has also galvanized many of his supporters. Outside the Milan courthouse Wednesday, both sides turned out for dueling demonstrations amid the crush of journalists in attendance for the highly anticipated trial.
Sluggish pace of justice
Berlusconi may attempt to drag out the case against him further. During his 17-year political career, he has faced numerous accusations of tax fraud, corruption, bribery, and embezzlement related to his multibillion-dollar business empire. Many of the cases ground on for so long that they timed out under Italy’s statute of limitations. He has never been definitively convicted of any crime.
On Tuesday, Berlusconi was able to secure the approval, through his political coalition’s parliamentary majority, of a motion that challenges the Milan court’s jurisdiction and argues that the case should instead be heard by a special tribunal of ministers.
The approval of the motion will not stop the trial going ahead for the time being, but is due to be considered by the Constitutional Court, which will decide in coming weeks whether to transfer the trial to the tribunal in Rome, which deals with offenses committed by MPs.