Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is considering running for election as a member of the European Parliament for Estonia, a country where Italian laws prohibiting him from running for office do not apply, according to press reports.
Silvio Berlusconi turned a successful business career into a platform for politics. In 1994, few months before elections, he founded Forza Italia and went onto win, but his government soon collapsed when an ally withdrew support.
In the subsequent election, he was defeated by Romano Prodi, a centre-left candidate. But that was not the end of Berlusconi. He returned power others two times, in the 2001 and again 2008, after losing another election to Prodi in 2006.
But his political ventures were always dogged by tax and legal problems. In 2011, Berlusconi was hit by a sex scandal known as 'Rubygate', after the name of an underage prostitute. With the Italian economy teetering and fears of a eurozone meltdown looming, he resigned in November and was succeeded by a government of technocrats headed by Mario Monti.
Berlusconi was not a candidate in the 2013 elections but he agreed to break a stalemate in the formation of a government by supporting the coalition led by political rival Enrico Letta.
According to Il Messaggero, the “crazy idea” that Berlusconi could seek a seat as MEP from another country is finding more and more support among his entourage.
An Italian law, known as ‘legge Severino’ prohibits Italians sentenced to more than two years in jail to take part in political elections.
On 1 August, Berlusconi was sentenced to four years of effective jail for tax fraud, commuted to one. The court ruling threw Italian politics into disarray, as it threatened to sink the government coalition in which Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party (PDL) is a key player.
Under a law passed by Mario Monti's government last year, Berlusconi, who sits in the Senate, also faces the risk of expulsion from parliament.
Berlusconi claims the judgment was politically motivated and plans to appeal to Italy's constitutional court against the tax fraud verdict. PDL says the Senate should wait for that ruling before deciding whether he must leave parliament. Berlusconi has also appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
According to Il Messagero, Berlusconi could seek election in Estonia, where a close friend of his, Ernesto Preatoni, a rich businessman, has established his power base.
Preatoni, owner of the Domina Vacanze Group, which sells big touristic assets in Italy and Egypt, appears to be a controversial person and his Wikipedia page has been cancelled due to conflicting postings.
According to the Italian press and bloggers, it would be “a child’s game” for Preatoni to set up a list in Estonia and get Berlusconi elected as MEP.
There is no law in the European electoral system preventing a person from being elected an MEP in another country. But it would not be the first time that an Italian politician would run for election in a Baltic country.
Italian journalist Giulietto Chiesa, a former correspondent in Moscow, was a candidate in Latvia in 2009 from a list representing the country's Russian minority. He was not elected, as this force succeeded sending to Brussels only one MEP.
It would not be the first time either that influential people get elected as MEPs to obtain immunity from prosecution.
Victor Uspaskich MEP, a millionaire businessman and a former economy minister of Lithuania, was elected in 2009 largely to escape prosecution over tax violations.
Uspakich, who is no longer an MEP, last July has been convicted of tax fraud in his country, but is reportedly still enjoying freedom under a bail of €145,000.