Italy's Silvio Berlusconi Ousted from Politics
ROME -- Italy's Senate voted Wednesday to strip media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi of his Senate seat, depriving the billionaire of a political voice for the first time in two decades.
The ouster is connected to an August Supreme Court ruling that upheld a lower-court conviction for tax fraud and false accounting in connection with a series of film acquisition deals for Berlusconi's Mediaset cinema and television giant.
The move was widely expected, and came after a flurry of 11th-hour activities aimed at cancelling or delaying the vote. Berlusconi likened the pending vote to a coup d'état and called on Italian President Giorgio Napolitano to pardon him. On Tuesday, his lawyers trotted out a new witness, who said Berlusconi had been kept in the dark regarding the wrong doings at Mediaset, and just before the vote Berlusconi said balloting should be done in secret -- something that would have left some lawmakers vote to keep him in the legislature without facing public scorn.
None of it worked.
The ouster -- which took place despite three interruptions of voting from chanting supporters -- deprives Berlusconi of an official post in government for the first time in 20 years. The next step for him is most likely a year of house arrest or community service and trying to hold together a splintering political coalition.
After the vote was announced, Berlusconi, who was not in the chamber for the vote, told supporters it was "a bitter day of mourning for our democracy."
Berlusconi's splintered coalition deprives him of the power to bring the government down, which he had until about a month ago. He has vowed to withdraw his support for Prime Minister Enrico Letta anyway, but it will have a limited impact on Letta's ability to govern.
Berlusconi remains on trial on charges of bribing a parliamentarian to tilt a crucial vote his way, and other cases involving illegal wire taps, abuse of power, and paying an under-age girl for sex are on appeal.
Mediaset shares rose 1.4 percent in trading Wednesday, ending the day at €3.38 ($4.56). That's below their 52-week high of €3.99 ($5.39) but nearly triple their all-time low of €1.16 ($1.43) set nearly a year ago. Mediaset's share price has generally risen in step with Berlusconi's worsening political woes, on speculation that the company would be better off with its founder out of the political spotlight.