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Italy PM defends plans to suspend trials for minor charges

[JURIST] Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] wrote Monday that proposed amendments [PDF text, in Italian] designed to suspend older trials for nonviolent crimes would allow the judiciary to consider more important cases [Senate letter, in Italian] and would give the government time to introduce judicial reforms. The amendments would affect a larger anti-crime package [Senate Act 692 materials], and if passed would suspend trials for crimes that occurred before mid-2002 except for those involving the Mafia, violent offenses, workplace accidents and crimes that could be punished by 10 years or more in prison. The amendments would also protect high-ranking government officials from prosecution during their terms in office. Berlusconi is now on trial for corruption charges [JURIST report] dating back to 1997, and critics of the amendment have charged that the move is personally motivated since Berlusconi's trial would be among those suspended. Berlusconi responded to comments that the amendments would violate the Italian constitution [text, in Italian; AP report] by writing that the measure is both constitutional and essential for the proper functioning of the judiciary. Reuters has more. Corriere della Sera has local coverage, in Italian.

Berlusconi, a media mogul and Italy's richest man, has faced trial on at least six occasions involving charges of false accounting, tax fraud, money laundering, embezzlement, and giving false testimony [JURIST reports]. In October 2007, Italy's highest court of appeal upheld Berlusconi's April 2007 acquittal [JURIST reports] on bribery charges. That trial was initially blocked in 2004 by a bill drafted by Berlusconi ally and later defense lawyer Gaetano Pecorella but went ahead after the bill was struck down as unconstitutional. Berlusconi has continually maintained his innocence, accusing prosecutors of conducting a political vendetta against him.

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