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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 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 billionaire four-time premier is hoping the court in the French city of Strasbourg 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 is unlikely to arrive 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.

"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 did not attend the hearing and was instead 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 politics thanks to an alliance between Forza Italia and the far-right Northern League.

Recent opinion polls suggest they would be well-placed to emerge as the biggest force after the coming election, 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 European court's ruling will be binding on Italy.

Besides winning the right to run again for office, Berlusconi 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 the billionaire of his Senate membership violated "his right to fulfil his mandate".

They say the ban on holding office is further punishment for the elderly tycoon, who served out 10-and-a-half months of community service for his crimes.

A lawyer acting for the Italian government rejected the claims on Wednesday, noting that the exclusion automatically applies to anyone sentenced to two or more years in prison.

She also underlined that fighting corruption and fraud was a priority for the Italian state.

- 'The immortal' -

Berlusconi, notorious for his "Bunga Bunga" sex parties, was sentenced to four years in prison in 2012 over tax fraud in connection with the purchase of TV rights by his firm Mediaset.

The sentence was commuted to four hours of work a week in a home caring for elderly patients with Alzheimer's Disease, with Berlusconi avoiding prison under an amnesty measure because of his age.

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

Dubbed "the immortal", Berlusconi made a resounding return this month when a coalition of Forza Italia, the Northern League and Brothers of Italy won regional elections on the Mediterranean 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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