Da Financial Times del 03/10/2005
Originale su http://news.ft.com/cms/s/2969446a-33aa-11da-bd49-00000e2511c8.html

Italian legislation put on hold as 'save Previti' bill comes to vote

di Tony Barber

Rome - Italy's centre-right government will put on a rare display of unity this week and try to pass a law overturning the conviction on corruption charges of a political ally of Silvio Berlusconi, prime minister.

All other legislation has been put on hold so that parliament can vote on a bill that will cut the statute of limitations for certain crimes, including the corruption of which Cesare Previti was found guilty in 2003.

The government's determination to help Mr Previti stands in stark contrast to its inaction on other fronts, including the crisis surrounding Antonio Fazio, the Bank of Italy governor whom prosecutors are investigating for suspected abuse of office.

Even a controversial measure to change Italy's electoral system is being delayed to make room for the parliamentary vote on what the centre-left opposition calls the "save Previti" bill.

"Laws designed for individuals must be absolutely abolished. We have to rise up and fight this system," Romano Prodi, the opposition leader, told a rally yesterday in Palermo.

Mr Previti, 70, who was once Mr Berlusconi's lawyer and defence minister, was sentenced in April 2003 to 11 years in prison for bribing judges. He maintains his innocence, but the Milan court that convicted him called it the biggest corruption case in post-1945 Italy.

An appeals court reduced his sentence last May to seven years. If parliament passes the statute of limitations bill, Mr Previti's conviction will be annulled.

Mr Berlusconi and his supporters say the Previti affair shows leftwing judges and prosecutors are perverting judicial procedures in order to destroy the reputation of the premier and his allies.

But the opposition views the "save Previti" bill as a breathtaking example of how the government, whatever its internal divisions on other policies, will always rally round to help Mr Berlusconi or his friends when it comes to legal matters.

"It's incredible," said Antonio Di Pietro, a centre-left politician and former prosecutor who helped expose vast corruption in Italian public life in the early 1990s. "When a law concerns the safety of members of the government majority, they succeed in record time in passing the relevant measure."

Mr Berlusconi himself was cleared last week of charges of false accounting because his government had passed a law in 2001 that decriminalised the offence.

The bill changing the statute of limitations is being rushed through parliament because the government has a busy legislative agenda ahead of national elections due by next May.

Above all, it must steer Italy's 2006 budget through parliament. But it also wants to pass the changes to the electoral system, constitutional reforms, and a vital measure to strengthen Italy's financial markets regulation after the accounting fraud discovered in 2003 at the Parmalat food company.

This last measure also includes proposals to reform the Bank of Italy, whose reputation is suffering from the Fazio affair.

A parliamentary vote on the post-Parmalat reforms is possible on Wednesday or Thursday - after the vote on the "save Previti" bill.

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