Politique Diabolique | Swindles & Scams May 20 2009
ABOVE THE LAW
An Italian court accuses Silvio Berlusconi of bribery—but can’t prosecute him.


Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi must have laughed himself silly when a court in Milan declared last night that he had bribed his lawyer David Mills in order to avoid corruption charges and retain illegal corporate profits. Berlusconi was accused of paying Mills 440,000€ in cash, which the lawyer then hid in a series of offshore accounts and shell companies. The money was paid during the late 1990s, when Mills was the star prosecution witness in two trials concerning the corrupt dealings of highly placed public officials. The Milanese court claimed he lied on those occasions to shield Berlusconi, and Mills himself acknowledged this when he claimed, “[I] kept Mr. B. out of a great deal of trouble he would have been in had I said all I knew.” Mills later retracted the statement, but the court decided there was more than a kernel of truth in it.

Though Mills’ testimony explicitly fingered the billionaire prime minister, Berlusconi—pay attention now, because this is where the laughter comes in—had pushed through a law last year that gives prime ministers blanket immunity from any kind of prosecution while they are in office. There's a second loophole as well—under Italian law, statues of limitations expire quickly, which is why David Mills will spend no time in jail despite his conviction, and why Berlusconi’s alleged crimes may no longer be prosecutable by the time he exits office. Berlusconi claimed he needed immunity because the many lawsuits brought against him have distracted him from his job, but his opponents say the constant accusations should be taken as a sign of Berlusconi’s corruption and are exactly why he should resign, rather than go about writing laws antithetical to the concept of democracy. For his part, the prime minister has had little to say about the commotion, but we have a feeling he's somewhere kicking back with a cappucino, smiling rather broadly.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
March 09
1954—Murrow Blasts McCarthy
In an event that would mark a turning point in American history, newsman Edward R. Murrow blasts anti-communist Senator Joseph McCarthy on a nighttime news show called See It Now. The broadcast used mainly McCarthy's own words to make its case that the senator had abused his position and perverted the rule of law, and, despite McCarthy's power, America agreed, as response to the episode ran 15 to 1 in favor of Murrow.
1959—Barbie Doll Debuts
The Barbie fashion doll, manufactured by the American toy-company Mattel after being designed by Ruth Handler, debuts in U.S. stores. Barbie, whose full name is Barbie Millicent Roberts, was inspired by a German doll called Bild Lilli, and has sold in the hundreds of millions.
March 08
1978—Hitchhiker's Guide Debuts
The first radio episode of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, written by British humorist Douglas Adams, is transmitted on BBC Radio 4. The series becomes a huge success, and is adapted into stage shows, a series of books, a 1981 television series, and a 1984 computer game.
1999—The Yankee Clipper Dies
Baseball player Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio, Jr., who while playing for the New York Yankees would become world famous as Joe DiMaggio, dies at age 84 six months after surgery for lung cancer. He led the Yankees to wins in nine World Series during his thirteen year career and his fifty-six game hitting streak is considered one of baseball's unbreakable records. Yet for all his sports achievements, he is probably as remembered for his stormy one-year marriage to film icon Marilyn Monroe.
March 07
1975—Lesley Whittle Is Found Strangled
In England kidnapped heiress Lesley Whittle, who had been missing for fifty-two days, is found strangled at the bottom of a drain shaft at Kidsgrove in Staffordshire. Her killer was Donald Neilson, aka the Black Panther, a builder from Bradford. He was convicted of the murder and given five life sentences in June 1976.
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