Day after day, Italian newspapers pullulate with deeply disturbing examples of the antics of Italy’s judges. But this past week has been a vintage one even by Italian standards.
First, a judge in the city of L’Aquila, where in April 2009 an earthquake killed an estimated 309 people, convicted seven staff from the government Commissione Grandi Rischi (Natural Disaster Commission), six of them scientists, of the manslaughter of 29 of the earthquake victims, jailing them for six years. Their crime? They told the people of L’Aquila in the days before the earthquake that such an earthquake was improbable. Why stop at the manslaughter of only 29 victims and not all 309? It is not hard to imagine where the application of such insane and terrifying logic might lead. Who now will dare even to be a weatherman in Italy for fear of what Italy’s judges will make of a false prediction?
On Friday, a Milan court convicted Silvio Berlusconi, AKA “Silvio il Magnifico,” of tax fraud and sentenced him to four years in jail, banned him from public office for five years, and ordered him to pay 10 million euros to the tax office. He too had been unable to prove his innocence. Ever since the 76-year-old media tycoon and three-time prime minister became a politician in 1994 to save Italy from the “ex”-Communist Party, Italy’s highly politicized magistrati (judges) have been on his back.
In Italy, there are up to three gradi, or trials, if either the defense or prosecution lodges an appeal. This is the fourth time Berlusconi has been convicted “in primo grado.” Justice in this country is unjustly slow and maddeningly byzantine. It has taken six years simply to reach the end of this first trial, which relates to crimes allegedly committed between 1995 and 1999. But even Silvio il Magnifico is not immortal and so he will probably be dead before its conclusion. But the damage to his reputation from this and all the other prosecutions brought against him has been massive and irreparable.
He has been investigated and prosecuted down the years for practically everything except murder. But he has never spent a single day in jail. Few do in Italy, unless the sentence is greater than three years in jail—that is, few do after conviction and sentencing. Cattle trucks full of people get locked up before trial prior to even being charged with a crime while the magistrati work to gather evidence against them.
As Berlusconi told the media on Friday after the sentence: “This is the barbarity of an uncivilized country. We can’t go on like this. Democracy is finita. We must do something. Italy has become invivibile.”
There remains the notorious bunga bunga trial, which before it even got to court branded Berlusconi in the world’s eyes as a whoremonger and pedophile, leading to his resignation in November 2011.
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