Italy may suspend Berlusconi trials by decree

on January 12 2010 10:39 AM

ROME - Italy's cabinet is mulling a decree that would suspend a number of trials, including those involving Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, in the run-up to regional elections in March, a senator from his party said on Tuesday.

The decree would be the latest in a series of measures planned by the government to shield, at least temporarily, Berlusconi from two corruption and tax fraud trials.

The 73-year-old conservative leader denies any wrongdoing and says the measures are not tailor-made to favour him.

Piero Longo, a senator for Berlusconi's People of Freedom party who is also part of his legal team, said a decree putting certain trials on hold was needed to implement a recent ruling by Italy's top court on the rights of defendants.

It's a decree that provides for the suspension of trials ... which incidentally also involves the trials against the prime minister, Longo told Reuters.

Longo did not elaborate on the details of the decree but said that because the measure would also benefit Berlusconi he expected it would spark a big fuss.

Two newspapers reported that under the decree, which comes into effect immediately after being countersigned by the head of state, the trials would be suspended for 90 days, covering the period of the regional electoral campaign and ballot in March.

The Constitutional Court ruled in December that if new charges are brought during a trial, the defendant has the right to reconsider his options -- including a fast-track trial in exchange for a reduced sentence in case of conviction.

Two months earlier, the same court had declared a law granting immunity from prosecution to Berlusconi while in office unconstitutional, allowing trials against him to resume.Since then Berlusconi has pledged to overhaul the judiciary, accusing magistrates of hounding him for political motives.

Besides the decree, Berlusconi's government will submit to parliament later on Tuesday a bill that would drastically cut the duration of Italy's snail-paced trials.

Critics say the bill is another measure designed to stop pending trials against the prime minister, who has an ample parliamentary majority, in their tracks.

Other measures being studied by the government include a law giving Berlusconi a legitimate impediment to attending court cases against him because of his official commitments, and a constitutional reform to restore his immunity.

(Writing by Silvia Aloisi, editing by Diana Abdallah)

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