Furore over judge's comments on Berlusconi fraud conviction

Ex-premier's lawyers cry foul over Esposito interview

Furore over judge's comments on Berlusconi fraud conviction

Rome, August 6 - An interview with a supreme court judge on last week's decision to uphold a tax-fraud verdict against Silvio Berlusconi has stirred a huge furore, with one of the ex-premier's lawyers saying it casts doubt on the legitimacy of the decision. Sources at supreme Court of Cassation, however, said that nothing can change the four-year jail sentence for Berlusconi - three of which have been commuted because of an amnesty - as it is now definitive. Judge Antonio Esposito spoke about the case - regarding a system of inflated film-rights purchases at Berlusconi's Mediaset media empire and the use of offshore companies to create slush and dodge taxes - in an interview with Naples-based daily Il Mattino. It is a highly unusual move as a court usually only comments on its sentences in a written explanation generally published over a month after the verdict is announced. In the interview published Tuesday, Esposito denied claims there was no evidence Berlusconi knew of the fraud and was convicted on the basis of the logic that, as the head of Mediaset, he "could not have not known" about the wrongdoing. "No, you were made aware of what was happening," Esposito was quoted as saying by the newspaper. However, Esposito said he was misquoted by Il Mattino, which also quoted him as saying "Berlusconi was convicted because he knew, not because he couldn't not know", although the editor said he has proof the material was correct. The interview prompted a hail of indignation from Berlusconi's supporters. "This is obviously very serious and unprecedented," said Niccolò Ghedini, one of Berlusconi's lawyers and an MP for the ex-premier's People of Freedom (PdL) party. "The competent bodies must urgently verify what happened, which cannot not have concrete effects for the evaluation of that sentence". But the Cassation sources said the interview "does not invalidate, nor change, the decision on the Mediaset trial", adding that the verdict was passed by a panel of five judges, not just one member of it. Nevertheless, a member of the judiciary's self-governing body, the CSM, said the case should be looked into. "A panel of judges should speak with legal documents i.e. the explanation of the sentence," said Bartolomeo Romano, a non-magistrate member of the CSM nominated by the PdL. He added the CSM disciplinary bodies "cannot fail to examine what happened with extreme attention".

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