ROME - Silvio Berlusconi’s lawyers asked an Italian court yesterday to uphold an immunity law that has shielded the Italian prime minister from a corruption trial in Milan, a decision that could determine the future of his government.
The Constitutional Court in Rome was hearing arguments yesterday before deliberating over whether the legislation complies with the Italian Constitution, but it was unclear when the court’s 15 judges would issue a ruling. Berlusconi lawyer, Gaetano Pecorella, suggested that a decision could be made this week.
Rejection of the legislation could lead to pressure on Berlusconi to resign. A ruling upholding the immunity law might give Berlusconi a boost while he is under attack amid a sex scandal.
Berlusconi, a businessman-turned-politician with a history of legal troubles stemming from his private interests, said this week that “nothing will make us betray the mandate that Italians have given us.’’
The law in question, passed in 2008 after Berlusconi took power in his third stint as prime minister, grants immunity to the premier, the Italian president, and the two speakers of Parliament while in office.
It was spearheaded by Justice Minister Angelino Alfano, a Berlusconi ally, and passed as Berlusconi was on trial in Milan on charges that he bribed a British lawyer for false testimony. As a result, the trial was suspended, drawing accusations that the legislation was tailor-made for the prime minister.
The law, however, only freezes the statute of limitations while the officials are in office, leaving the possibility that they will be prosecuted after their terms end. Critics argue that the law violates the principle that all are equal before the law.
Berlusconi has denied the corruption charges, and the Milan proceedings could resume if the court determines that the immunity law is unconstitutional. His lawyers have suggested Berlusconi might have to resign since he would be unable to do his job while on trial.