Italy's Berlusconi calls for judicial reform, new immunity law

10:06, February 19, 2011      

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Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi reacts during a meeting in Rome, Italy, Feb. 16, 2011. Berlusconi said Wednesday that he is not worried about his pending trial on charges he paid a 17-year-old Moroccan girl for sex, which was his first public comments since his indictment. (Xinhua/Wang Qingqin)

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, facing a trial for alleged abuse of power and paid sex with an underage girl, on Friday called for the Italian judiciary to be reformed, and said that the country's political leaders should be free from criminal and civil prosecution while in office.

Italy's constitutional court in January gutted a controversial immunity law that protected Berlusconi and a handful of other top government officials from prosecution.

That move opened the door to the charges Milan prosecutors filed on Feb. 9 in connection to the 74-year-old Berlusconi's relationship with Moroccan-born cabaret dancer Karima el Mahrough. El Mahrough, who is best known by her stage name "Ruby," was 17 when she first met Berlusconi.

Charges are that Berlusconi paid el Mahrough for sex while she was still a minor and then attempted to use his influence to free her from policy custody when she was arrested early last year for shoplifting.

Berlusconi insists he did nothing wrong in connection with el Mahrough, and through 17 previous criminal and civil investigations into his actions he has claimed that he is the target of what he calls "socialist judges" attempting to harm him for political motives.

Based on that argument, the prime minister on Friday said that the judiciary should be reformed and that immunity laws -- similar to the one rejected by the constitutional court last month -- should be established and extended to members of parliament.

Berlusconi's critics immediately defined the idea as an attempt to buy support from members of the legislative body, where Berlusconi's coalition holds a razor-thin majority and where judicial investigations are commonplace.

As of November last year, around two dozen members of the 630- member lower house of parliament had been indicted for felonies at some point in their career (some verdicts were overturned on appeal) and at least another 10 were under some kind of criminal or serious civil investigation, according to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. Parliament would have to vote in favor of such a law in order for it to go into effect.


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