Rome

PdL whips meet president to discuss Berlusconi's plight

Some MPs have called for pardon for ex-premier

PdL whips meet president to discuss Berlusconi's plight

(By Paul Virgo) Rome, August 5 - The parliamentary whips of Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party met President Giorgio Napolitano on Monday to discuss the ex-premier's plight after a tax-fraud conviction against him was definitively upheld by the supreme court last week. PdL Senate whip Renato Schifani and House whip Renato Brunetta are thought to have wanted to talk of ways to make it possible for Berlusconi to stay active in politics after the four-year prison sentence - three of which have been commuted because of an amnesty - comes into effect in October. The verdict by the supreme Court of Cassation has put huge strain on Premier Enrico Letta's grand-coalition government, which needs the PdL's support to stay afloat. "Schifani and Brunetta illustrated to the president their evaluations on the demands to satisfy for further consolidation of the positive evolution of the political framework in Italy and the development of stability that is useful to the government," a source at Napolitano's office said. After the talks with Napolitano, which lasted over an hour, Schifani and Brunetta went to Berlusconi's Rome residence for a meeting with party bigwigs, including Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano. Berlusconi is not in danger of actually going to prison, as he is over 70 and will be given the option of serving the remaining year of the sentence under house arrest or doing community service. The terms of an anti-corruption law passed last year would probably make him ineligible to run in future elections, although some supporters have said it should not apply to the three-time premier as the original sentence pre-dates the legislation. He looks set to be stripped of his status as Senator sooner or later. There have been calls from some PdL figures, including Brunetta, for Napolitano to grant Berlusconi a pardon. But this could be difficult for Napolitano to do for many reasons, including the fact that Berlusconi is appealing against two other criminal convictions, a seven-year sentence for paying for sex with an underage prostitute and a one-year term for involvement in the publication of an illegally obtained wiretap. It may also be seen as a delegitimisation of the judiciary if Napolitano grants a pardon soon after the supreme court of Cassation's ruling. Napolitano issued a statement Friday saying a pardon could only be granted via the procedure set down by law, which says a request should directly come from the convicted person, a family member or a lawyer and arrive to the head of State after being approved by the justice minister. Berlusconi suggested Friday he would sink the government to spark early elections unless Letta's government quickly introduced reforms of the justice system, although on Sunday he vowed to continue supporting the administration at a rally outside his Rome home. Berlusconi says he is innocent of tax fraud and argues he is the victim of a campaign of persecution by left-wing elements in the judiciary that started when the billionaire media magnate embarked on a political career two decades ago. Letta, a member of the centre-left Democratic Party, said after Sunday's rally that he was pleased Berlusconi had renewed his support for the government, while stressing he was waiting to see whether his actions would match his words. One factor working in Letta's favour is that the parties are aware that, if the government collapses and they return to the polls, the outcome is likely to be the similar to February's inconclusive result. This is because of a much-criticised election law that makes it hard for coalitions to win working majorities in both the Lower House and the Senate. Beppe Grillo, meanwhile, dismissed reports his anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S) may be willing to form a government with the PD if Premier Letta's executive falls. The comedian-turned-politician Grillo stressed there is no change in his stance that he will not govern with any of the established parties, which he says are responsible for a dysfunctional political system that has produced debt, corruption and economic decline. "The PdL and the PD are the same," Grillo said via his Twitter account, @beppe_grillo. "There is no chance of me allying with one or the other, or voting confidence (in governments led by them)". The PD and the PdL, traditional foes, formed an alliance to make Letta's government possible in April following two months of deadlock after February's inconclusive general election. Before cutting a deal with the PdL, the PD tried unsuccessfully to get the M5S, which won around a quarter of the vote in February, to form an alliance.

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