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Italy court rules against moving Berlusconi trials

Italy's supreme court on Monday turned down an appeal by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's defence team to move sex and fraud trials against the media magnate from Milan to another city, Italian media reported.

Italy court rules against moving Berlusconi trials
File photo of Silvio Berlusconi (L): Andreas Solaro/AFP. File photo of Karima El Mahroug (R): Joe Klamar/AFP

The decision opens the way for the scandal-tainted tycoon's fraud appeal trial to resume on Wednesday and for his trial for having sex with an underage prostitute to continue next Monday.

The billionaire's lawyers had accused several Milan judges of "creating a hostile environment" around their client, and had argued that he would get fairer trials in nearby Brescia.

The trials, in which verdicts are imminent, had been suspended until the supreme court ruling.

In October, the three-time premier was sentenced to a year in prison and handed a five-year ban from holding public office for fraud linked to his business empire Mediaset, but the punishment has been suspended during the appeal process.

Even if the conviction is upheld, the 76-year-old could file a second appeal to the supreme court.

A separate trial against Berlusconi for allegedly paying for sex with a 17-year-old prostitute while he was still prime minister is set to resume next week, and a verdict is expected soon after.

Berlusconi is accused of having sex for money in 2010 with Karima El-Mahroug, an exotic dancer nicknamed Ruby the Heart Stealer who attended parties thrown at his luxury villa.

He faces up to three years in prison on that charge and up to 12 years for allegedly putting pressure on police to have her released from custody when she was arrested for petty theft.

Despite suffering a huge drop in popularity when he was ousted from office during the financial crisis in 2011, Berlusconi has recently seen his support soar once more.

His protege Angelo Alfano was named deputy prime minister in the country's new cabinet last week, and critics have accused the media baron of attempting to wield influence from behind the scenes in the hope of protecting himself from his legal troubles.

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ITALIAN POLITICS

Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Italy’s government was plunged into turmoil on Tuesday as foreign minister Luigi Di Maio announced he was leaving his party to start a breakaway group.

Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Di Maio said his decision to leave the Five Star Movement (M5S) – the party he once led – was due to its “ambiguity” over Italy’s support of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

He accused the party’s current leader, former prime minister Giuseppe Conte, of undermining the coalition government’s efforts to support Ukraine and weakening Italy’s position within the EU.

“Today’s is a difficult decision I never imagined I would have to take … but today I and lots of other colleagues and friends are leaving the Five Star Movement,” Di Maio told a press conference on Tuesday.

“We are leaving what tomorrow will no longer be the first political force in parliament.”

His announcement came after months of tensions within the party, which has lost most of the popular support that propelled it to power in 2018 and risks being wiped out in national elections due next year.

The split threatens to bring instability to Draghi’s multi-party government, formed in February 2021 after a political crisis toppled the previous coalition.

As many as 60 former Five Star lawmakers have already signed up to Di Maio’s new group, “Together for the Future”, media reports said.

Di Maio played a key role in the rise of the once anti-establishment M5S, but as Italy’s chief diplomat he has embraced Draghi’s more pro-European views.

READ ALSO: How the rebel Five Star Movement joined Italy’s establishment

Despite Italy’s long-standing political and economic ties with Russia, Draghi’s government has taken a strongly pro-NATO stance, sending weapons and cash to help Ukraine while supporting EU sanctions against Russia.

Di Maio backed the premier’s strong support for Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, including sending weapons for Kyiv to defend itself.

In this he has clashed with the head of Five Star, former premier Giuseppe Conte, who argues that Italy should focus on a diplomatic solution.

Di Maio attacked his former party without naming Conte, saying: “In these months, the main political force in parliament had the duty to support the diplomacy of the government and avoid ambiguity. But this was not the case,” he said.

Luigi Di Maio (R) applauds after Prime Minister Mario Draghi (L) addresses the Italian Senate on June 21st, 2022. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

“In this historic moment, support of European and Atlanticist values cannot be a mistake,” he added.

The Five Star Movement, he said, had risked the stability of the government “just to try to regain a few percentage points, without even succeeding”.

But a majority of lawmakers – including from the Five Star Movement – backed Draghi’s approach in March and again in a Senate vote on Tuesday.

Draghi earlier on Tuesday made clear his course was set.

“Italy will continue to work with the European Union and with our G7 partners to support Ukraine, to seek peace, to overcome this crisis,” he told the Senate, with Di Maio at his side.

“This is the mandate the government has received from parliament, from you. This is the guide for our action.”

The Five Star Movement stormed to power in 2018 general elections after winning a third of the vote on an anti-establishment ticket, and stayed in office even after Draghi was parachuted in to lead Italy in February 2021.

But while it once threatened to upend the political order in Italy, defections, policy U-turns and dismal polling have left it struggling for relevance.

“Today ends the story of the Five Star Movement,” tweeted former premier Matteo Renzi, who brought down the last Conte government by withdrawing his support.

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