A verdict is expected today in the corruption trial of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. He is accused of bribing Rome judges in the late 1980s and early 1990s to win favourable rulings for his Fininvest business empire. Appearing relaxed last night at a function in Rome, the premier said his role was to work in the interest of the country. He added that he felt serene and confident that there would not be a conviction. State prosecutors are demanding an eight-year prison term, and are calling for Berlusconi to be barred from public office for life.
He has always denied the charges, claiming he is the victim of a politically-motivated witch-hunt. Whatever the verdict, his lawyers have made clear he will not resign. Italian law allows for two appeals before a final sentence is delivered, which means it could take years, given the country’s notoriously slow legal system.
A guilty verdict would, however, represent a severe blow for Berlusconi’s prestige ahead of a general election scheduled for 2006. One of Fininvest’s lawyers and a judge were found guilty in the same case last year. A ruling last year by the Italian parliament giving the prime minister immunity from prosecution was subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court. The trial against Berlusconi resumed in April.