Monthly Archives: October 2012

Italy’s Berlusconi sentenced to jail for tax fraud

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was sentenced to four years in jail on Friday for tax fraud in connection with the purchase of broadcasting rights by his Mediasettelevision company.

The 76-year-old billionaire media magnate, who was convicted three times during the 1990s in the first degree before being cleared by higher courts, has the right to appeal the ruling two more times before the sentence becomes definitive.

That process is likely to be lengthy and he will not be jailed unless he loses the final appeal. Even then, because the crime was committed when an amnesty to prevent prison overcrowding was in place, the maximum possible jail time would be one year.

The ruling comes two days after Berlusconi confirmed he would not run in next year’s elections as the leader of his People of Freedom (PDL) party, ending almost 19 years as the dominant politician of the centre-right.

Milan judge Edoardo d’Avossa told a packed court that between 2000 and 2003, there had been “a very significant amount of tax evasion” and “an incredible mechanism of fraud” in place around the buying and selling of broadcast rights.

The court’s written ruling said Berlusconi showed a “natural capacity for crime”.

During a phone call to an evening news broadcast on one of his own channels, Berlusconi said there was no link between his decision pull out of politics and the Friday ruling, and slammed the court for being politically motivated.

He called the verdict “political and intolerable,” and said it showed Italy had become uncivilized, barbaric and was no longer a democracy.

Berlusconi lawyers Piero Longo and Niccolo Ghedini said the ruling was “totally divorced from all judicial logic”, adding that they hoped the “atmosphere” at the appeals courts would be different.

Berlusconi, one of Italy’s richest men, became prime minister for a second time in 2001 after winning a landslide election victory. Even while he was prime minister, he remained in effective charge of Mediaset even though he had handed over control of day-to-day operations, the court said.

The four-time prime minister and other Mediaset executives stood accused of inflating the price paid for TV rights via offshore companies controlled by Berlusconi and skimming off part of the money to create illegal slush funds.

The investigation focused on television and cinema rights that Berlusconi’s holding company Fininvest bought via offshore companies from Hollywood studios.

The court also ordered damages provisionally set at 10 million euros ($13 million) to be paid by Berlusconi and his co-defendants to tax authorities.


The flamboyant Berlusconi, who is still on trial in a separate prostitution case, resigned as prime minister a year ago as Italy faced a Greek-style debt crisis, handing the reins of government to economics professor Mario Monti.

Angelino Alfano, secretary of the PDL, said the ruling proved once again “judicial persecution” of the media magnate, while political rival Antonio Di Pietro, a former magistrate, hailed the decision, saying “the truth has been exposed”.

Should the ruling be confirmed on appeal, Berlusconi would also be forbidden from holding public office for five years, and from being a company executive for three years.

“This is not a sentence, but an attempt at political homicide,” Fabrizio Chicchito, the PDL’s chief whip in the Chamber of Deputies, said referring to the ban on holding office.

Now that Berlusconi has said he will pull out of politics, he may be focusing more on his business empire, which includes Mediaset, AC Milan soccer club, and Internet bank Mediolanum.

Shares in Mediaset, Italy’s biggest private broadcaster, fell as much as 3 percent after the ruling, and are down about 50 percent in the last year.

The broadcaster has been struggling against rivals like News Corp’s broadcaster Sky Italia and a host of online media, while its core advertising revenues are feeling the pinch of the recession.

The court acquitted Mediaset chairman and long-term Berlusconi friend Fedele Confalonieri, for whom prosecutors had sought a sentence of three years and four months.

Berlusconi has owned AC Milan since 1986 and the club have been European champions five times under his leadership. But the its fortunes have dipped in the past couple of seasons amid cost cutting, prompting repeated rumors of its possible sale.

He also is still on trial in the separate “Rubygate” case in which he is accused of paying for sex with a teenaged nightclub dancer when she was under 18 and thus too young to be paid legally as a prostitute. He denies the charges.

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Benjamin Netanyahu’s Warning Reveals His Moments of Memory Loss

By Robert Fisk

Israeli President “Bibi” Netanyahu on Guy Fawkes. The super-terrorist plans to blow up parliament and the King; the very nation will be liquidated. Fawkes was a Catholic rather than a Muslim – though Renaissance Europe was pretty good at bestialising both – but what a cartoon! I loved the curly fuse and the “flashy” bit on the end – Dan Dare versus The Mekon – and the red line drawn on the black line. It was all oh-so-convincing. Ninety per cent convincing.

Not since the last set of cartoons flourished in the UN Donkey House has the world been so gobsmacked. Then it was Colin Powell (I was in the Security Council chamber as a witness to this nonsense in 2003) who displayed his own cartoon of white-coated Iraqi chemists making weapons of mass destruction in a mobile laboratory. It was a railway train, for heaven’s sake. And, unlike Bibi’s bomb and fuse, it was actually meant to be a railway train. Cartoons, you see, can be taken literally or metaphorically. Or just plain insult the intelligence of ordinary folk; like Bibi’s – or cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed, for that matter. They all go “BANG” in the end. And I can see why Israel’s sorrowful defenders had to trash Bibi’s cartoon yesterday. Sure, it was awful – but the MESSAGE, that was the thing. Don’t let the cartoon distract you from the truth (albeit that cartoons are supposed to contain an inner truth, are they not?) and the truth according to Bibi was that Iran could have a nuclear bomb “BY THE MIDDLE OF NEXT YEAR”.

But whoops! Here’s a little downgrading for the reader. “Iran is the centre of terrorism, fundamentalism and subversion and is … more dangerous than Nazism, because Hitler did not possess a nuclear bomb …” Bibi speaking on Thursday? Nope. The ex-Prime Minister of Israel, Shimon Peres, in 1996. And – I’m indebted here to the indispensable Roger Cohen – Peres himself said in 1992 that Iran would have a nuclear bomb by 1999! That’s 13 years ago. And Ehud Barak – now Bibi’s Defence Minister – said in 1996 that Iran would have a nuke by 2004. That’s eight years ago. Maybe cartoons are all that’s left.

Of course, the think-tank loonies waffled on the networks, grinning idiotically over the cartoon but nodding sagely at Netanyahu’s warning – without bothering to recall those utterly false warnings in the past. You can’t cry wolf when the wolf is called Ahmadinejad.

Bloomberg’s columnist, Lisa Beyer, remarked that Netanyahu had noted “rightly, that Israel’s intelligence agencies are superb”. They are not. Israel’s intelligence on Lebanon has been pitiful for two decades, and it was these same “agencies” who assured Powell back in 2003 that Iraq did indeed have weapons of mass destruction. Later, we somehow forgot that little bit of false Israeli “intelligence” input.

Of course, the cartoon managed to distract us from the dignified speech by the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, whose condemnation of Israel’s land theft in the West Bank was infinitely more accurate than Netanyahu’s artwork. But Abbas spoke in Arabic, Netanyahu in American English. Only one man was going to be on the world’s screens yesterday. He did seem oddly hot under the collar about the UN’s almost-forgotten report on Israel’s cruelty during the 2008-9 Gaza war, when Israel’s “surgical strikes” – this is Bibi-speak – killed 1,300 Palestinians, most of them civilians. For a man obsessed with statistics, this one escaped Netanyahu’s memory.

But there you go. Iran is a dodgy place. Ahmadinejad is a crackpot, though he came across, in his new “moody” grey specs, as a bit more laid back than Bibi. Of course Iran’s going to have a nuke. Saddam was making one, too. Wasn’t he?

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Iran: Israel is world’s laughing stock

Top official in Tehran says Netanyahu’s UN speech ‘is mocked by entire world,’ brands PM’s bomb diagram as ‘silly reaction’ to Islamic Republic’s ‘growing power’


A senior Iranian official derided Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s UN General Assembly speech, and asserted that the Islamic Republic’s “growing power and influence” have angered Jerusalem, the Iranian FARS news agency reported Sunday.

“The fake regime of Israel is mocked by everyone in the world today, although such cheap actions of the leaders of the occupying Zionist regime are nothing new,” top foreign ministry official Hassan Qashqavi said, referring to the cartoon-like bomb illustration that the prime minister presented at the UN General Assembly meeting on Thursday.

Netanyahu used the diagram and a red marker to demonstrate the Iran’s nuclear progress and press the international community to set a “red line” that would stop the atom program in its tracks.

Qashqavi, who was speaking at a ceremony in Iran’s southern city of Kangan, further claimed that Tehran’s might had angered Israeli officials so much that they were driven to using “silly” props.

Netanyahu, who returned to Israel from the US on Sunday, expressed contentment with his speech.

“During my visit here we drew a clear red line for Iran’s nuclear program and we strengthened our coordination with the US administration on the issue,” the prime minister wrote on his Facebook page prior to his flight. “I will continue to make every effort to ensure that the world’s most dangerous country doesn’t obtain the world’s most dangerous weapon.”

Despite the mockery on the part of the Iranians, the General Assembly week ended with an embarrassing incident for the delegation from Tehran; a cameraman who accompanied President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to New York decided to defect to the US.

According to some reports, Hassan Golhandan was soon expected to reunite with his family, which has left Iran for Turkey and now plans to continue to the US.

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