Berlusconi’s legal problems: the ‘fake’ sentence in the corruption of senator De Gregorio’s trial

Berlusconi Convention Italiani nel Mondo Sergio De Gregorio

Another leg of the Berlusconi’s legal problems saga: sentenced to pro forma three years in jail for corrupting opposition senator in the first trial. Why is il Cavaliere still (almost) untouchable by the law? 

Here is another episode of the Berlusconi’s legal problems saga: On July 8, 2015, Silvio Berlusconi was sentenced to three years in jail for bribing opposition senator Sergio De Gregorio with 3m euros in 2006. His aim was to cause the fall of the centre-left government led by Romano Prodi. MPs and senators ‘trading’ is a well known practice and a landmark in the Italian corruption system.

Even if the trial is just another judicial farce, it gives us the opportunity to exemplify some issues of the Berlusconi’s network that has made him untouchable by the law for twenty years like his laws ad-personam, the services of his lawyers/MPs and his Weapons of Mass Deception, all aspects of the greatest conflict of interests ever seen in the Western world.

Why is the trial just another charade if Berlusconi has been sentenced to jail?

The question may sound rhetoric to the Italians, but hard to understand to foreign readers. Let us try and understand why these days il Cavaliere is so busy with A.C. Milan’s calciomercato but has already forgotten the senator’s calciomercato’s guilty verdict (calciomercato is football jargon, it means footballers’ transfer market)

Berlusconi’s legal problems: natural born corrupter

As I say in the introduction of my book on Berlusconi’s Italy, “I started writing in the big heat of August 1, 2013, the day Berlusconi was given an irreversible guilty verdict and condemned to jail for the first time. He was sentenced for tax fraud and evasion: in the first chapter of part one I carry forward the idea that tax evasion and the subsequent creation of black money in off-shore accounts, which has characterized B.’s career since the beginning, has been a means to corrupt everyone he needed to in his shortcut climb to business and political success. In the caring people’s minds, Berlusconi is perceived as a natural born corrupter and I exemplify how he has used the slush funds for this purpose in every possible way. I use the world ‘corrupter’ both in its meaning of ‘one who practices or endorses corruption especially in politics’, and of  ‘making someone or something morally depraved’ (as the Oxford Dictionary reads).”

“… this black money in secret bank accounts was used by Berlusconi for his everyday activities: the corruption of judges and of Guardia di Finanza officers – the tax police –, secret financing of politicians, corruption of investigators and witnesses, and so on and so forth…  Berlusconi is the symbol itself of corruption turning ‘legal’, representing one of the many Italian dark tendencies.”

“… Il Cavaliere’s payroll has remained filled with names of MPs of the opposition parties both when he was Prime Minister and when he was the leader of the opposition. We call this ‘compravendita di parlamentari’ – MPs trading – , or ‘calciomercato’, from the football jargon, and it’s a very simple matter: Berlusconi has always tried to pay cash to MPs willing to change jersey and wear the PDL (People of Freedom/Forza Italia, Il Cavaliere’s party) one, so that he either caused the fall of the centre-left government or the reinforcement of his own in perilous times. Last but not least is senator De Gregorio’s case, who confessed having received three million euros illegally to cause the fall of the government led by Romano Prodi” (the leader of the Democratic Party which, in the period of the establishment of the trial, October 2013, was paradoxically forming a grand coalition government with Il Popolo della libertà/Forza Italia).

“… Today the corruption of opposition senator Sergio De Gregorio is one of the several other trials awaiting il Cavaliere, in Naples this time. Meanwhile, like a typical ‘sceneggiata napoletana’, De Gregorio has seen the light, admitted his deed, signed a ‘patteggiamento’ – an agreement – with the magistrates, entrusted his soul to God and he now leads a humble life of repentance, turning into a character who should by right enter Garrone’s ‘scary’ movie Reality, a 2012 Italian film set in the world of reality television.”

The guilty verdict is just another farce

Italian Pride: Sergio De Gregorio and Silvio Berlusconi in Naples (source: L’Espresso-Repubblica)

Today, July 8, 2015, the verdict of the first trial has arrived. Berlusconi has been sentenced to three years in jail and to compensate the Senate for damages. In the same trial, Valter Lavitola, former editor-in-chief of the socialist newspaper L’Avanti, has got the same sentence. Lavitola was another Berlusconi’s ‘con-men’, the middle-man who delivered part of the bribe money to De Gregorio. The guilty verdict has always been obvious since De Gregorio had agreed a patteggiamento with the magistrates, declaring himself guilty and signing a 20 months sentence on  October 23, 2013, during the same session in which Berlusconi and Lavitola were indicted. In Italy, the land of unpunished crime, with a patteggiamento the defendant can have 30% of the sentence cut off and the trial is not celebrated. Twenty months is a ‘non-sentence’ since convicts don’t go to jail when they are sentenced to less than three years, one the bipartisan laws aiming mainly at the conservation of the political species. Here are the Guardian and il Fatto Quotidiano’s articles with the details of the case.

The De Gregorio corruption trial is haunted by the usual ‘court case killer’ that has murdered all the previous Berlusconi’s cases, the statute of limitations, Berlusconi’s greatest passport to freedom. Il Cavaliere, when Prime Minister, has kept shortening its time span for the offences he was trialed for, excellent examples of the laws ad-personam which characterized Berlusconi’s ventennio, and consequently excellent examples of the greatest conflict of interests ever seen in the West that his ventennio gave birth to. The statute of limitation in question is due to expire in November 2015, and so it will kill the proceeding that will never reach a final verdict. “It was a good trial, passionate, but in terms of consequences the imminent expiration date takes all the pathos out of the verdict,” said prosecutor Henry John Woodcock after the sentence was delivered.

So the trial is just another farce, like all the others that preceded it, except for the Mediaset trial I mentioned in the beginning, the only one in which Berlusconi’s lawyers arrived ‘a little late’ and the final guilty verdict was issued a few hours before ‘closing time’ (as we know, the Mediaset case 2013 sentence put an end to the Berlusconi’s ventennio also symbolically)

Berlusconi’s legal problems: untouchable by the law

So, even if the De Gregorio bribing trial has been killed well before a final ruling is reached on appeal, it gives us the opportunity to exemplify some issues of the Berlusconi’s network that has made him untouchable by the law for twenty years. Besides his laws ad-personam, also the service of his lawyers/MPs and his Weapons of Mass Deceptions are topics suggested by this farce, all of them belonging to conflict of interests saga.

What remains of the trial is its political value and another notch on Berlusconi’s criminal record that gave voice to il Cavaliere’s usual media mantra of a political plot against him: “I acknowledge an absurd political sentence after a completely political trial, built on a risible accusatory theorem. I am serene, I am sure I have always acted in the interest of my country and in full respects of the rules and the laws, and I will keep on doing it” is Berlusconi’s comment soon after the verdict.

Silvio Berlusconi and his Weapons of Mass Deception in the ’80s (source: the Guardian)

The monopoly of information is an another example of the conflict of interests: as it is well-known, il Cavaliere owns three nationwide TV networks (Canale 5, Rete 4, Italia 1), the so-called Mediaset Group, two newspapers (Il Giornale, Libero), a weekly tabloid (Chi); beside, when in power, indirectly he also controlled RAI, the State television, and in general he has a lot of influence on many self-appointed independent editorial groups. I have nicknamed this apparatus Weapons of Mass Deception, propaganda tools that bias elections and through which he sanctifies the worst aspects of the average Italian, the ‘italiano medio’, as we say derogatorily. What Berlusconi’s televisions have actually done is a complete change in the national psyche, a subliminal implantation of a negative philosophy in people’s minds, providing a great contribution to the erosion of the democratic system.

These WMD have spread Berlusconi’s propaganda of lies, based on the reversal of the truth and of logic, for twenty long years. A planned constant repetition of lies can make people believe the unbelievable, it is a form of thought control that can turn a criminal into a saint, a victim of a political plot organized by lawmen who want to subvert democracy, as we have just seen in this article and as I widely exemplify in my book. In other words, berlusconismo in its philosophical sense and in its everyday practices has trained the less intellectually protected population to accept ‘double dealing’ and ‘double acting’: it’s the application to reality of the form of mind control Orwell called doublethink, sixty-five years after its invention; it’s a kind of lobotomy, of brainwashing we all accept as almost natural.

Uriah Heep, 'quite as cadaverous as it had looked in the window' (quote from C. Dickens's David Copperfield). Source: Wikipedia
Uriah Heep, ‘quite as cadaverous as it had looked in the window’ (quote from C. Dickens’s David Copperfield). Source: Wikipedia

“It is a sentence we consider clamorously unfair and unreasonable” is the comment of avvocato Ghedini”, one of the three defense lawyers. As for former trials, one of his lawyers in this case was Berlusconi’s ‘con-man’ Niccolò Ghedini, whose viscid and arrogant behaviour makes him a modern plaster copy of Uriah Heep. Avv. Ghedini is also a senator elected by Berlusconi’s party Popolo della Libertà – People of Freedom – thanks to an electoral law which gives the party leaders, not the people, the possibility to choose MPs. Together with other faithful lawyers who sit in Parliament thanks to il Cavaliere, avv. Ghedini also sits in the various judiciary commissions in charge of proposing laws to Parliament, and there’s only one guideline in their mission: to make laws for the convenience of their leader, regardless the devastating effect they may have on justice in general. Here is, obviously, another outrageous case of the conflict of interests.

The decaying customs of the country

Valter Lavitola, a faccendiere and a further Berlusconi’s con-man, was the material executor of part of corruption crime. In 1996 he published a new edition the newspaper Avanti! and was its editor-in-chief for the few months of the paper lifespan. Avanti! was the historical newspaper of the Socialist Party in the XX century until it was closed after the Socialist Party, like the other main traditional parties, was wiped out by the Clean Hands investigation in 1992 that revealed the endemic corruption of politicians and businessmen. The icon of the Clean Hands (or Tangentopoli) pool of magistrates was Antonio Di Pietro who later become a senator and founded the party Italia dei Valori (Italy of Values, IdV) in 1998. Obviously, the main topic of the party was the so-called questione morale (moral issue), aiming at bringing morality to the Italian corrupt political life. Senator De Gregorio was elected for the IdV but sold out to Berlusconi’s lure, like other IdV MPs have done in recent years. This is, in my opinion, a very sad picture of the decaying customs of the country.

If need be, this case is another example of the judicial paradox I mention many times in my book, with reference to the other Belusconi’s legal problems and court sentences: the material executor of the crime (La Vitola) and the corrupt person (De Gregorio) are condemned while the corrupter/instigator (Berlusconi) is set free.

“We face one of the worst hypothesis that can be prospected. A case that will enter history books and that will be a warning for the future. Here we have economic power who purchases people to exploit their functions and manipulate their vote” pubblico ministero Alessandro Milita said. His colleague Fabrizio Vanorio added that the sentence “farà giurisprudenza (will ‘make jurisprudence’, i.e. will be a jurisprudential milestone example) because it is the first case that deals with parliamentary corruption”


“It’s truly amazing to read about a culture so unbelievable and impenetrable to an outsider. As Mr Dylan once wrote Steal a little and they throw you in jail, steal a lot and they make you king. While it’s not related, it’s a little like reading about gun culture in the USA… to an outsider their attitudes and justifications are bizarre and can only been seen as a collective delusion which leaves an outsider ‘speechless’.”

This is the comment to my book written by the A. Drury, the principal of the Brighton English School LTC (Language Teaching Centre). While for the Italians ‘everything goes’, since the never ending sequence of corruption scandals has made us immune from indignation, foreigners have a very different approach.

So I would really like to know your reaction as a reader to the astonishing facts I have just told you.

Thank you in advance for your effort.