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Analysis: Berlusconi trial exposes legal flaws

By Paula Newton, CNN
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Berlusconi fraud case delayed
  • Silvio Berlusconi is accused of not paying $45M in taxes for his media company, Mediaset, from 2000 to 2003
  • Berlusconi's lawyers confirm that for crucial parts of trial, the prime minister will show up
  • PM says a law would throw out at least two cases against him if not wrapped up within six years
  • Critics say this could mean more than 100,000 criminal cases could be thrown out

Rome, Italy (CNN) -- With his signature showmanship and swagger, Silvio Berlusconi opened a U.N. Food summit in Rome just as judges were reopening a tax fraud trial against him in Milan.

While the Italian prime minister seemed unburdened by the legal problems facing him, efforts behind the scenes are in full gear.

Within a few hours of the trial resuming, judges agreed with Berlusconi's lawyers that their client, who is accused of not paying $45 million in taxes for his media company, Mediaset, from 2000 to 2003, would have a short reprieve.

Material witnesses and evidence will not be heard until next January. But the real surprise came when Berlusconi's lawyers confirmed that for crucial bits of the trial, the prime minister will show up.

But what happens before that could make all the difference. Berlusconi has once again proposed a law that would throw out at least two of the charges against him by extinguishing all cases in Italy not wrapped up within six years.

Judges warn it is irresponsible because more than 100,000 criminal cases could be thrown out.

"Many proceedings also for serious crimes will end, as in bribery, for example, stolen goods, manslaughter, for fraud, tax evasion will be eliminated forever." says Elizabetta Maria Cesqui of the Italian Magistrate's Board.

"Guilty people will be free." she adds. "It's impossible; it is against the fundamental principles of the judiciary in criminal matters, it's impossible to have a law for one person."

But even many magistrates agree judicial reform in Italy is needed. Berlusconi's legal proposals have touched a nerve with some Italians who agree with him that justice delayed should be justice denied.

Outside one Italian courthouse in Rome we found Guiseppe Cittavitta, a man who says the legal system is an outrage. Cittavitta claims his case has been ongoing for nine years with no resolution.

"There is presumption of guilt here and then it's up to you to prove otherwise." he says.

But others we spoke to told us even if Italy's judiciary needs reforming, it should not be a "one-man show."

Berlusconi remains defiant, describing himself last month as the most persecuted Italian man of all time. He denies any wrongdoing and claims he is on trial for political reasons and he accuses magistrates of being "communist bullies."

Franco Pavoncello, the President of John Cabot University in Rome and an experienced political observer echoes the frustrations of many Italians.

"There is in the public opinion a sensation of fatigue, a sensation of saying well, I mean how long are we going go with this. Are we going to spend our next 30 years discussing the personal problems of a man?" he says.

How long Berlusconi's legal trouble preoccupies Italy remains an open question. Berlusconi's enemies realize that since the prime minister is no longer immune from prosecution, it is open season on him: Berlusconi is fair game. Another indictment could be just weeks away and yet another trial against him for tax evasion opens in 10 days.