Berlusconi Banking Scandal: Italy's Prime Minister Might Face New Trial
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By ALESSANDRA RIZZO, Associated Press
ROME -- Already under fire for his handling of Italy's financial crisis and engulfed in a sex scandal, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi might face another trial in Milan.
The latest storm around Berlusconi centers on a 2005 banking scandal. A Milan judge said Thursday that Berlusconi has broken the law by pushing for the publication in a newspaper owned by his family of wiretapped conversations that should have remained secret because of an ongoing investigation, Italian news agencies ANSA and LaPresse reported. The reports cited the document by the Milan judge.
SCROLL DOWN FOR PHOTOS OF BERLUSCONI AND RECENT ANTI-AUSTERITY PROTESTS
No decision has been made on whether to indict the premier. The final word rests with another magistrate in Milan, and no date on when that decision might come has been set.
But the latest judicial case mounted pressure on a premier who already faces four active legal cases and is politically weakened. Berlusconi's supporters called the move further proof that Milan magistrates are out to get Berlusconi.
The premier is facing three separate trials on charges including corruption, tax fraud and accusations that he paid for sex with a minor. The sex trial resumes next month. A fourth case is at a preliminary phase.
The 74-year-old Berlusconi has always denied wrongdoing and insisted he is the victim of politically-driven magistrates intent on ousting him from power.
At the time of the scandal, Italian newspaper Il Giornale, owned by Berlusconi's family, published a conversation between a bank official and a political rival of Berlusconi.
The Milan judge, Stefania Donadeo, said Thursday that Berlusconi was made aware of this conversation and pushed for its publication, thus violating the secrecy of the conversations, the news reports said.
Italian newspapers are routinely filled with the transcripts of wiretapped conversations from ongoing probes. Milan prosecutors investigating the banking scandal had asked Donadeo to throw out the case against Berlusconi.
But Donadeo rejected their request and ordered them to formally ask for Berlusconi's indictment. The prosecutors have 10 days to comply and then a separate judge will decide on that request.
The ANSA news agency said the prosecutors' request might be made as early as Friday.
In the case, Italian insurance company Unipol was bidding for Banca Nazionale del Lavoro against a foreign bidder.
Il Giornale, a newspaper owned by Berlusconi's brother Paolo, published a conversation between Piero Fassino, then the leader of the biggest center-left party opposed to Berlusconi, and Giovanni Consorte, then chairman of Unipol, in which Fassino was heard saying, "So, do we own a bank?"
The conversation did not suggest the politician committed a crime, but was seen as politically damaging a few months before national elections were to be held.
In a separate case, Naples magistrates believe Berlusconi was the victim of a businessman who extorted money from the premier in exchange for the man's cooperation in a probe over recruiting prostitutes to attend wild parties at Berlusconi's home. Berlusconi has denied being the victim of blackmail, and has so far refused being questioned by the magistrates.
The premier is also embattled in Rome, where he has bickered with his allies over austerity measures to clean up Italy's finances and stem a financial crisis. The austerity package was eventually passed by parliament this week, but hundreds of demonstrators protested in Rome, clashing with police near Parliament.