Italy: Judge rules PM 'responsible' in Fininvest graft case

Rome, 5 October (AKI) - Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was declared jointly responsible for a corruption charge by his investment company Fininvest in a 1991 battle to buy publisher Mondadori and will have to pay more than 1.1 billion dollars in compensation.

"First of all, we must assert the responsibility of the defendant (Fininvest) for the conduct of Silvio Berlusconi," said a single presiding judge of an administrative civil court in the northern Italian city of Milan, Raimondo Mesiano.

"Silvio Berlusconi is co-responsible in the corruption issue... as a logical consequence (of) the principle of civil responsibility."

The judge was giving the arguments behind a ruling under which Fininvest will have to pay 750,000 euros (almost 1.1 billion dollars) in damages to CIR (Compagnie Industriale Riunite), a holding company of rival media mogul Carlo de Benedetti, owner of the left-leaning La Repubblica daily.

La Repubblica is one of the newspapers Berlusconi is suing for libel and intrusion of privacy. The daily has been at the forefront in reporting Berlusconi's scandals involving prostitutes, and has even pioneered a campaign to support freedom of the press in Italy by collecting more than 500,000 signatures, including those of 11 Nobel laureates.

Fininvest, however, can still appeal the ruling and has sought a suspension of the court order made public on Saturday.

Part of the 140-page-long ruling, said that "CIR also has the right to receive compensation from Fininvest for the damage of a non-patrimonial nature suffered in the same affair. The settlement of these damages will be made in a separate ruling."

"After almost twenty years since the fraudulent action that caused our group to lose its legitimate ownership of Mondadori and following the verdict which confirmed definitively in the criminal court that a judge had been corrupted, at last we have justice in the civil court as well," said De Benedetti in a media release on CIR's website.

"The ruling of the Milan Law Court...does not in any way make up for me not being able to implement the business plan which would have created the first publishing group in Italy, but it has established unequivocally that the action that prevented me from doing so was illegal."

There was no comment from Berlusconi immediately after the ruling, however, the leader in the lower house of the Italian parliament, Massimo Donadi, from the Italy of Values opposition party said in any other country, the prime minister would have resigned.

"If we were in a normal country, or even a slightly abnormal country, after the Mondadori ruling, Berlusconi would have stepped down. Here in Italy, on the other hand, a protest to defend the guilty is organised," said Donadi on Monday.

This week, Italy's Constitutional Court will decide whether a law granting immunity to Berlusconi is illegal.

The law - called Lodo Alfano - was approved in June last year and gives the four highest offices of state - including the prime minister - immunity from criminal prosecution.

Until the law was introduced, Berlusconi was a defendant in the case involving British tax lawyer, David Mills, who was sentenced in February to four and a half years in jail for accepting a 600,000 dollar bribe from the prime minister for giving false evidence in corruption trials.

The 73-year old leader also proposed further legislation stating that if immunity were ever lifted, the conviction of Mills and the evidence on which it is based could not be used against him.

Recently, Giampaolo Tarantini, a businessman from Bari and an acquaintance of Berlusconi has told prosecutors he supplied women - some of whom were paid for 'sexual services' - for 18 parties at Berlusconi’s residences in Rome and Sardinia between September last year and January this year.


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