Milan

Berlusconi had decisive role in wiretap publication - court

Clear political motive, says explanation of one-year conviction

Berlusconi had decisive role in wiretap publication - court

Milan, June 4 - Silvio Berlusconi had a decisive role in the publication of an illegally obtained wiretap in his brother Paolo's conservative newspaper Il Giornale, according to a Milan court's explanation of its decision to hand the ex-premier a one-year jail term in relation to the case. The wiretap concerned a conversation in 2005 between one of Berlusconi's political opponents, Piero Fassino, the then head of the former centre-left Democratic Left (DS) party, and Giovanni Consorte, the former chairman of Unipol, an association of insurers historically linked to the DS, the heir to Italy's Communist Party. At the time Unipol came close to taking over one of Italy's leading banks, Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (BNL), and Fassino was recorded as saying "we have a bank!". Fassino, now mayor of Turin, was widely criticised for the comment, especially among the rank and file of the DS, which has since turned into a larger centre-left group, the Democratic Party. The Milan court's explanation, which was released Tuesday, of its March ruling said that without Berlusconi's "support in terms of moral complicity... the publication would not have taken place". It added that centre-right leader Berlusconi had clear political motives to give a green light to the publication late in 2005, months before the 2006 general election that his alliance narrowly lost to Romano Prodi's centre left. "The period of the publication should be considered, (it was) four months from the elections and in the middle of the Christmas holidays, a period with low amounts of important political news," the explanation said. "So the political interest of the wiretaps was evident, as was the desire to give the prominence". The court also sentenced Paolo Berlusconi to two years, three months in jail and ordered the brothers to pay 80,000 euros in damages to Fassino. In Italy prison sentences for non-violent crimes do not usually become effective until the two-tier appeals system has been exhausted. Before being indicted, Berlusconi told a Milan court that he had never heard the wiretap, adding "otherwise I would have remembered". Prosecutors said Paolo Berlusconi was allowed to hear the tape, before it was even logged in as evidence, by Roberto Raffaelli, the head of the firm Research Control System (RCS) which had been contracted by criminal investigators to make the wiretap. They said that several weeks later Raffaelli and a businessman friend, Fabrizio Favata, went to Berlusconi's private mansion in Arcore, outside Milan, and played it for the premier and, again, his brother before handing over a copy. A transcript of the Fassino-Consorte conversation was published several days later in Il Giornale. The court's explanation said claims that Berlusconi fell asleep while the recording was played at Arcore was not credible. Berlusconi is also on trial in Milan for allegedly paying for sex with an underage prostitute and for allegedly abusing his office to try to hush up the affair. Prosecutors have requested a six-year prison term and a verdict is expected on June 24. The ex-premier is appealing against a four-year conviction for fraud at his media empire too. He also faces indictment for allegedly buying a Senator to help topple a Prodi's 2006-08 government. In his current and previous trials, Berlusconi has always denied wrongdoing, claiming he is the victim of a minority group of allegedly left-wing prosecutors and judges who he says are persecuting him for political reasons.

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