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article imageBerlusconi takes comeback bid to Europe rights court

By Christian SPILLMANN with Angus MACKINNON in Rome (AFP)     Nov 22, 2017 in World

Italy's scandal-plagued former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi took his comeback bid to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on Wednesday, asking it to weigh in on his ban from holding elected office.

Ahead of a general election set to be held before May next year, the four-time premier is hoping the court will rule against the six-year ban imposed over his 2012 conviction for tax fraud.

But although 17 judges began examining his case on Wednesday, their ruling may not come in time for the 81-year-old who was ejected from parliament four years ago.

"I hope that the Strasbourg court will accept my appeal," he wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. "But my role in the next electoral campaign is clear regardless: I will be in the field looking to take the centre-right into government."

He was not expected to attend Wednesday's hearing in the French city of Strasbourg, instead being represented by an eight-strong legal team led by Niccolo Ghedini, a member of his centre-right Forza Italia party.

- 'Captain or coach' -

With the ruling Democratic Party plagued by internal feuding and the populist Five Star movement losing momentum, Berlusconi is back in Italian politics thanks to an alliance between Forza Italia and the far-right Northern League.

The elderly tycoon, notorious for his "Bunga Bunga" sex parties, is seeking to position himself as a pro-European moderate and the only man who can save Italy from the populist wave which has swept the country and Europe in recent years.

Recent polls suggest a Forza Italia-Northern League alliance would be well-placed to emerge as the biggest force after the polls, which will be fought under a new electoral system favouring alliances.

"I will be on the pitch, as captain or coach," Berlusconi said last week, using the sort of football jargon that won him support during his rise to power in 1994.

The ruling by the Court of Human Rights will be binding on Italy.

Besides winning the right to run again for office, the billionaire tycoon is hoping to be reinstated as a senator and reclaim lost salary payments after he was kicked out over his fraud conviction.

Berlusconi lawyers prepapre for the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) hearing
Berlusconi lawyers prepapre for the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) hearing

His legal team argued that stripping him of his Senate membership violated "his right to fulfil his mandate".

They say the ban on him holding office is further punishment for the 81-year-old politician who carried out ten-and-a-half months of community service for his crimes.

The Italian government rejects the claims, noting that the exclusion automatically applies to anyone sentenced to two or more years in prison.

- The immortal -

Berlusconi was sentenced to four years in prison in 2012 over tax fraud in connection with the purchase of TV rights by his firm Mediaset, which was commuted to four hours of work a week in a home caring for elderly patients with Alzheimer's Disease.

Under an amnesty measure, his sentence was reduced to one year but he avoided prison because of his age.

Any salary payments he recoups from the Senate will go toward the care home, the Correire della Sera newspaper reported.

Dubbed "the immortal", Berlusconi made a resounding return to the centre stage earlier this month when a coalition of Forza Italia, the Northern League and Brothers of Italy won elections on the southern island of Sicily.

"He incarnates, as ever, both the system and 'anti-system', the moderate and extremist wings, and manages to hold it all together," said Marco Damilano, the editor-in-chief of l'Espresso magazine.

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