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Thursday, February 21, 2013
Italy: Now Berlusconi Accused of Vote Buying
Stephen: Former Italian PM, media mogul Silvio Berlusconi has an extensive record of criminal allegations, including mafia collusion, false accounting, tax fraud, corruption and bribery of police officers and judges.
He’s also been tried in Italian courts in several cases. In three of these cases, accusations were dropped by the judiciary because of laws passed by Berlusconi’s former parliamentary majority shortening the time limit for prosecution of various offences and making false accounting illegal only if there is a specific damaged party reporting the fact to the authorities.
Silvio Berlusconi was on Wednesday accused of trying to buy votes just days before Italy’s general election after sending a letter to millions of households promising to refund a much-hated property tax.
The letters were sent out by the billionaire’s centre-Right PDL party as Italians prepare to vote on Sunday and Monday, in one of the country’s most important elections for years.
Mr Berlusconi’s political rivals said the letters were misleading because at first glance they looked like official rebate notices from the Italian inland revenue.
But they could well produce a last-minute surge in support for Mr Berlusconi – a poll this month found that nearly 40 per cent of voters favoured the idea of being reimbursed for the IMU tax, which was introduced by the caretaker government of Mario Monti, the outgoing prime minister.
Economists, however, have estimated that the tax rebate would cost the cash-strapped country up to eight billion euros, at a time when it is struggling to emerge from one of the deepest recessions since the Second World War.
The letters came in official-looking envelopes which were marked “Important notice: reimbursement of IMU 2012″.
“The refund will be available either through a transfer into your bank account, or to you personally at the counter of the post office,” they said.
Longer versions of the letter with more details of the proposal were sent to the regions which will be most crucial to the outcome of the vote, including Lombardy, described by pollsters as “the Ohio of Italy”, the Veneto, Campania and Sicily.
They were dismissed as a “scam” by Pier Luigi Bersani, the leader of the centre-Left Democratic Party, who is tipped as the country’s most likely next prime minister.
“If I’d crossed paths with Berlusconi after the letter was sent, I’d have told him he’s a cheat,” said Mr Bersani, whose party is about five per cent ahead of Mr Berlusconi’s conservative coalition.
Mr Monti, who heads a centrist alliance which is polling around 15 per cent of the vote, said he was taken aback by the audacity of the tax refund offer.
“When I said that Berlusconi would try to buy the votes of the Italian people with the money of the State, I didn’t think he would do it so much to the letter,” he said.
Mr Berlusconi has indicated that if his party wins, he will be economy minister while Angelino Alfano, the secretary of the PDL, will be prime minister.
Mr Alfano denied that the letter was misleading.
“The letter is a way to inform the public about a commitment, a concrete proposal that Silvio Berlusconi will carry out, regarding the rebate of the (tax) and its future elimination.
“No one is being forced into anything. A person reads the letter. If they are not convinced, they will vote for another party. If they are convinced, they’ll vote for the PDL”.
The last polls permitted to be published before the election indicated that support for the Democratic Party was around 34 per cent, with Mr Berlusconi’s centre-Right coalition at 29 per cent.
But the outcome of the election remains in the balance, with a report this week suggesting that five million Italians had yet to make up their minds as to which party they would vote for, amid general disgust and disillusionment towards mainstream politicians.