Più dell'inciucio potè D'Alema
But things could now – at last – be getting serious for Il Cavaliere.
On Friday, in Turin, he was named in court by a convicted killer as having links to Sicily’s Mafia in the midst of a bombing campaign carried out by the Cosa Nostra in the early 1990s. The allegations – denied by Mr Berlusconi – nevertheless highlight his links with Marcello Dell’Utri, a close associate appealing against a nine-year jail sentence for Mafia association. On the same day, in another court in Milan, Mr Berlusconi’s lawyers said that his official duties prevented him from appearing to defend himself against charges that he had bribed David Mills, his former UK lawyer, to give false testimony. He is also a defendant in a separate trial involving his Mediaset TV interests, while last week yet another court demanded that his Fininvest holding company provide a €750m bank guarantee against damages awarded against it in a takeover battle for the Mondadori publishing house.
Since the constitutional court in October struck down a law he pushed through to make sitting prime ministers immune from prosecution, Mr Berlusconi has been under siege. His wife’s claim for a punitive divorce settlement has added to his woes – and kept the headlines well stoked. Over the weekend, Italians mounted a big No to Berlusconi demonstration.
Even his ally, Gianfranco Fini, a possible successor who has hurtled from post-fascism towards the political centre, was recorded saying Mr Berlusconi confuses “leadership with absolute monarchy”. His foreign policy, based on personal ties to leaders such as Vladimir Putin and Muammer Gaddafi, sometimes appears to mix state and business affairs.
It is premature to count this wily survivor out – but he is skating on thin ice. His own complaint that he cannot govern and fight the barrage of court cases against him is surely right. He may dismiss it all as a witch-hunt by “red magistrates”. But his government is starting to spend more time dealing with Mr Berlusconi’s problems than the country’s. Tough decisions to reform Italy’s economy and institutions will not be taken while he remains prime minister.