NAPLES, Italy: Silvio Berlusconi was ordered to stand trial for corruption Wednesday, in a fresh legal blow to the former Italian prime minister following his conviction for tax fraud in August and a string of other cases.
Naples prosecutors accuse Berlusconi of bribing Sergio De Gregorio, a former senator in the small Italy of Values party, to switch allegiance as part of an attempt to bring down the center-left government of former Prime Minister Romano Prodi in 2006. A preliminary hearing is expected on Feb. 11, 2014.
De Gregorio, who has admitted receiving 3 million euros ($4.13 million) from Berlusconi and attempting to persuade other senators to change sides, was sentenced to 20 months in jail after plea bargaining.
His change of sides in 2006 contributed to destabilizing Prodi’s government and contributed to its eventual collapse, but he has since turned against Berlusconi, leader of Italy’s largest center-right party, the People of Freedom.
“I believe this issue will speed up the end of a political journey ... with Silvio Berlusconi withdrawing from the political scene, freeing Italy and himself,” De Gregorio told SkyTG24 TV.
Berlusconi’s lawyer Niccolo Ghedini said the ruling ordering a trial was “truly extraordinary” and there was no substance to the accusations. He said De Gregorio had changed sides out of conviction, and payments he had received were normal political expenses.
However, the case adds to a long list of legal headaches confronting the billionaire media tycoon, who faces expulsion from Parliament and a year of community service or house arrest after he was convicted of being at the center of a vast tax fraud system at his Mediaset television empire.
His legal battles have come close to destroying Italy’s fragile government of left and right, built around an unwieldy alliance between Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s center-left Democratic Party and Berlusconi’s PDL.