[JURIST] The Italian Senate [official website, in Italian] on Wednesday announced [press release, in Italian] that it has passed legislation [materials, in Italian; draft bill and backgrounder, PDF, in Italian] granting Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and other high-ranking officials immunity from prosecution while in office. Berlusconi's government proposed the legislation, which was passed in Italy's lower house [JURIST report] earlier this month, saying that officials need to function without fear of politically-motivated prosecutions. Critics have argued that the law was specifically designed to suspend Berlusconi's own trials on corruption charges [JURIST news archive]. The bill passed by a vote of 171-128, and Italian President Giorgio Napolitano [BBC profile] must sign it before it can take effect. Bloomberg has more.
Italy has recently faced significant criticism by both advocacy groups and members of the country's judiciary [JURIST reports] for relaxing its anti-corruption measures. The majority of the criticism has been targeted at Berlusconi, who has faced trial on at least six occasions involving charges of false accounting, tax fraud, money laundering, embezzlement, and giving false testimony [JURIST reports]. In October 2007, Italy's highest court of appeals upheld Berlusconi's April 2007 acquittal [JURIST reports] on bribery charges. That trial was initially blocked in 2004 by a bill drafted by Berlusconi ally and later defense lawyer Gaetano Pecorella but went ahead after the bill was struck down as unconstitutional. Berlusconi has said he is innocent on all charges and has accused prosecutors of pursuing a political vendetta against him.