[JURIST] The Italian Senate [official website], the upper house of the country's parliament, approved public safety legislation [text, PDF, in Italian; Senate Act 692 materials, in Italian] Wednesday containing provisions to suspend older trials for nonviolent crimes, including corruption proceedings against Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Berlusconi told the Senate in a letter [text, in Italian] last week that the measures would allow the judiciary to consider more important cases and give the government time to introduce judicial reforms. The bill will 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 government also plans to propose a bill that would protect high-ranking government officials from prosecution during their terms in office. Berlusconi is currently 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 will be among those suspended. BBC has more.
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 said he is innocent and has accused prosecutors of pursuing a political vendetta against him.