Judiciary appeals to minister over Berlusconi attacks

Self-governing body CSM asks Cancellieri to intervene

Judiciary appeals to minister over Berlusconi attacks

(By Paul Virgo) Rome, May 15 - The Italian judiciary's self-governing body, the Supreme Council of Magistrates (CSM), on Wednesday approved a document calling on Justice Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri to support judges "without any uncertainty" from attacks by former premier Silvio Berlusconi. Berlusconi has intensified his claims that he is the victim of persecution from left-wing magistrates after his legal problems grew more serious this month. At the weekend Berlusconi spoke at a protest rally in Brescia against alleged judicial persecution that was attended by some members of his People of Freedom (PdL) who are also ministers in Premier Enrico Letta's left-right government. These included Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano. "The justice minister should make her support for the whole judiciary heard without any uncertainty," read the CSM document. "It is indispensable that there is maximum respect between all the institutions". Berlusconi's and the PdL's renewed attacks on some parts of the judiciary come after a series of legal setbacks for the three-time premier. The 76-year-old failed in a bid to have a four-year conviction for fraud at his media empire overturned by an appeals court last week. On Monday prosecutors requested he receive a six-year prison sentence for allegedly paying for sex with an underage prostitute and allegedly abusing his power to try to cover up the affair. On Tuesday Rome prosecutors questioned Berlusconi over suspicions he paid 750,000 euros to buy the silence of people regarding his alleged use of prostitutes. In this case he is believed to be the victim of extortion by three former associates but he is also probed in a related investigation in Bari of suspicion of bribing people to lie about his alleged sex parties. In March Berlusconi was handed a one-year prison sentence for the publication of an illegally obtained wiretap of a telephone conversation of a political rival in his brother's newspaper. And last week Naples prosecutors requested the ex-premier be sent to trial over allegations he bribed former Senator Sergio De Gregorio to change political sides during Romano Prodi's 2006-2008 centre-left government. Berlusconi denies any wrongdoing in all cases. The CSM petition was approved on Wednesday with 19 votes in favour, three against and two abstentions. Two of the people to vote against the document were non-judge CSM members nominated by the PdL, while the other was nominated by the Northern League, the long-standing ally of Berlusconi's party. One CSM member appointed by the PdL voted in favour. Cancellieri, who was interior minister in former premier Mario Monti's technocrat administration and is not linked to a political party, did not respond with an immediate show of support. But she said she had "absolutely no problem" with the CSM and would take the issue it had raised to Friday's cabinet meeting and to parliament next week. She added that she had twice met CSM chief Michele Vietti in recent days and that a meeting with the whole body was in the pipeline. The appeal to Cancellieri did not stop Berlusconi's backers expressing their support, including the media magnate's daughter Marina Berlusconi, who called the sex trial a "farce". She also said that the Berlusconi family holding company Fininvest is set to sue former anti-Mafia prosecutor Antonio Ingroia for suggesting it had laundered money from the Mob. "This gentleman dares to describe Fininvest as a company that has recycled Mafia capital," Marina Berlusconi, Fininvest's chairwoman, told one of the group's media assets, newsweekly Panorama. Ingroia, who has unsuccessfully tried to prosecute ex-premier Berlusconi for Mafia links, recently rejoined the judiciary after creating a leftist party that flopped in February's general election. Marina Berlusconi accused Ingroia of "manipulating" evidence from trials that failed to convict her father and added: "We (Fininvest) have paid more than nine billion euros in taxes in the last 20 years, we have invested 27, we employ almost 20,000 people. Is it too much to expect a bit of respect?. "We have always played by the rules".

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