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Cablegate: Italy: Constitutional Court Rejects Law Granting

VZCZCXRO5872
RR RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR
DE RUEHRO #1144/01 2811603
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 081603Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY ROME
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2763
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHFL/AMCONSUL FLORENCE 3839
RUEHMIL/AMCONSUL MILAN 0270
RUEHNP/AMCONSUL NAPLES 4052

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ROME 001144

NOFORN
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/07/2019
TAGS: PGOV PREL IT
SUBJECT: ITALY: CONSTITUTIONAL COURT REJECTS LAW GRANTING
CRIMINAL IMMUNITY TO TOP OFFICIALS

ROME 00001144 001.2 OF 00...

Classified By: CDA Elizabeth L. Dibble for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C/NF) SUMMARY: The Italian Constitutional Court declared
unconstitutional a 2008 law granting temporary criminal
immunity to PM Berlusconi and three other senior officials.
The court's decision will allow several pending criminal
cases against Berlusconi to proceed. Government spokesperson
Paolo Bonauiti called the ruling blatantly political and said
Berlusconi's center-right government will finish its
five-year mandate, ""as decided by the Italian people.""
Berlusconi's response was more emotional as he lashed out
against ""communists"" on the court and a media culture
dominated by the left. Berlusconi also broke a political
taboo by taking direct aim at President of the Republic
Giorgio Napolitano whom he said was ""elected by a leftist
majority"" and that we ""know which side he is on."" Berlusconi
holds a solid majority in both chambers of parliament, and
his government is not immediately threatened by this ruling.
However, the decision has weakened him politically, and
defending himself from criminal investigations could become a
significant distraction. Berlusconi's harsh criticism of
Napolitano also threatens further divisions between
Berlusconi and the President of the Republic. END SUMMARY.

COURT RULES AGAINST LAW GRANTING IMMUNITY
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2. (SBU) On October 8, Italy's Constitutional Court ruled
nine to six that a 2008 law known as the ""Lodo Alfano,"" which
suspends criminal prosecutions against the top four
institutional positions in the Italian state is
unconstitutional. Declaring that the law violated
constitutional guarantees of equality before the law, the
decision will allow at least four criminal investigations
against PM Silvio Berlusconi to proceed. The legal
underpinnings of the ruling will also complicate any effort
by Berlusconi's parliamentary majority to quickly pass a
modified version of the Lodo Alfano--which is, itself, a
modified version of a similar law previously rejected by the
Constitutional Court.

BERLUSCONI LONG PLAGUED BY CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS
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3. (SBU) Corruption and other criminal charges have plagued
Berlusconi since he entered politics in 1994. Berlusconi
says leftist prosecutors in a highly-independent judiciary
are on a political witch-hunt, and he denies any guilt.
Berlusconi has never been definitively convicted in a
criminal case although several close associates have. To
avoid a conviction in some cases, Berlusconi lawyers ran out
the clock on the statute of limitations. In one case, a
Berlusconi-controlled parliament reduced the statute of
limitations on the category of crimes for which Berlusconi
was accused.

4. (C/NF) Italy's highly independent judiciary was a
traditional refuge for communist party members during the
Cold War. Moreover, the timing of judicial
actions--including against some center-left officials--often
appears political, including the October 5 decision by a
civil court to rule against Berlusconi's Finivest holding
company on a long-pending Euro 750 million suit by a business
competitor who claimed Finivest's corruption of a judge cost
it business opportunities. Whether guilty of corruption or
not, Berlusconi's many supporters have traditionally shrugged
off the allegations as irrelevant in the same way they have
forgiven his frequent sexual transgressions and public gaffes.

BERLUSCONI ACCUSES THE COURT, THE PRESS AND THE PRESIDENT
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

5. (C/NF) Government spokesperson Paolo Bonauiti called the
ruling politically motivated and said Berlusconi's
center-right government will finish its five-year mandate,
""as decided by the Italian people."" A visibly angered
Berlusconi, speaking in an unusually shaky voice, responded
emotionally to the verdict. He lashed out at the ""red
judges"" on the Constitutional Court, and accused President of
the Republic Giorgio Napolitano of ""roots totally in the
history of the left,"" saying Napolitano's recent appointment
to the court proves ""what side he is on."" Berlusconi said 72
percent of the Italian press is controlled by the left
(despite the fact he owns the lion's share of Italian media)
and even criticized how variety shows often poke fun at the
PM for his many sexual improprieties. Berlusconi continued
that he ""won't give up,"" and declared ""Long live Italy! Long
live Berlusconi!"" Reflecting the mood among many in
Berlusconi's party, one official told Poloff ""this was a
political coup d'etat conceived by entrenched powers opposed
to Berlusconi.""

THE OPPOSITION/SOME ALLIES CALL FOR CALM
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6. (U) Though more radical parties have called for Berlusconi
to resign, Democratic Party (PD) Secretary Dario Franceschini
said he hoped Berlusconi would not waste time trying to pass
another law designed only to protect himself and criticized
Berlusconi for attacking Napolitano. Significantly,
President of the Chamber of Deputies Gianfranco Fini, a
Berlusconi ally and co-founder of the ruling party who has
recently feuded with Berlusconi, also told Berlusconi to
""respect the Constitutional Court and the Head of State.""

COMMENT: BERLUSCONI WEAKENED BUT NOT DEFEATED
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7. (C/NF) COMMENT: Berlusconi holds a solid majority in both
chambers of parliament and is still popular with his
political base. Moreover, the opposition Democratic Party is
disorganized, and coalition dissidents are not strong enough
to act against Berlusconi--as much as some would like to. As
a result, though weakened, Berlusconi's government is not
immediately threatened by the negative ruling. Although it is
still too early to predict the ultimate impact of the
decision and imminent criminal investigations, Berlusconi's
emotional outburst against the well-respected President
Napolitano is likely to resonate badly with many Italians and
might lead to further divisions between the two institutions.
And, as Berlusconi himself has said, defending himself
against criminal investigations will distract him from the
work of the Italian people. END COMMENT.
DIBBLE

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