A judge in Milan ruled Tuesday that former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archives] will stand trial for publicly releasing a secret wiretap in 2005. The prosecution alleges that Berlusconi published the transcript of a tapped phone conversation [BBC report] in Il Giornale [media website, in Italian], a national newspaper owned by his brother. The conversation in question took place between Berlusconi's biggest political rival at the time, Piero Fassino [official website, in Italian], and the head of Unipol, an insurance company that has since been restructured. The publication broke secrecy rules, as the conversation should have remained private due to the ongoing investigation into possible inappropriate interference in Unipol's attempt to take over Italian banking firm Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (BNL) [official website, in Italian]. The publication was widely viewed as an attempt by Berlusconi to damage Fassino and other center-left opponents. During the hearing Tuesday Berlusconi told the court that he had not listened to the tape at the time, nor had he ordered its release. This will be Berlusconi's fourth pending trial, as he is already facing charges of embezzlement, tax fraud and paying for sex with an underage prostitute [JURIST reports]. The wiretap trial is set to begin March 15.
Berlusconi, who resigned as prime minister in November, has been a defendant in nearly 50 cases. In July an Italian appeals court ordered Fininvest [corporate website], a holding company owned by Berlusconi, to pay €560 million in damages and fees to Compagnie Industriali Riunite (CIR) Group [corporate website]. The complaint stemmed from Fininvest's 1991 acquisition of Italian publishing company Mondadori [corporate website], during which Fininvest bribed a judge in exchange for favorable decisions. In April neither Berlusconi nor the alleged prostitute attended the beginning of the prostitution trial [JURIST report], and the court adjourned after only 10 minutes. Both parties deny having a sexual relationship and Berlusconi has denied any wrongdoing, calling the accusations groundless. In January 2011 the Italian Constitutional Court [official website, in Italian] held hearings and subsequently struck down [JURIST reports] portions of a immunity law [materials, in Italian] backed by Berlusconi that would have granted the premier and other public officials temporary amnesty from any charges while holding office.