Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Silvio Berlusconi: A Man of Personal Convictions


Yesterday saw a verdict handed down in the so-called “Ruby” case, the case where Silvio Berlusconi was charged with having sex with a minor… for hire, and also for using his public office to get her released from jail on theft charges. He was convicted, and sentenced to seven years in jail, as well as being banned from public office for life. But our dear club owner and president will never serve that time. In fact, he will likely get the conviction overturned through the lengthy appeals process, a process that could take up to three years, and tons of time and money on the part of both him and the court system. But the most important thing is that Berlusconi will be a free man. Free to find other underage women, have more bunga bunga parties, and also covet more ridiculously overpriced strikers. Free to criticize Allegri publicly, tell him what formations to play and who to field. Free to pay his wife her €3m per month alimony (she divorced him when these charges came to light.) In fact, the only thing that won’t be free anymore is extra cash to invest in Milan, or even to reinvest transfer monies back into the squad. Because Silvio Berlusconi is a man of personal convictions.
 
The new club logo detail on the third kit: "The club with the most convicted President in the world"


We were told when his company, Fininvest, which is also Milan’s parent company, received the largest fine in European history at a whopping €560 million, that this would not affect the club. And then we had one of our worst transfer markets ever. At least €60 million in transfer fees into Milan, somewhere between €5-10 million out. We were also told that Acerbi and Traoré were champions, the kinds of players the seven-time Champions League winning club was accustomed to. But they weren’t. You will never convince me that Berlusconi’s poor business practices did not affect the club. And the impact wasn’t even all financial, either. Ever since then, our management seem to be on one never-ending horror episode of ex-Prime Ministers behaving badly, a show not even FOX in the U.S. dares to make. It was as if that one giant fine deflated every last bit of class from our club’s management. But it was more than just that fine. Any perception of class surrounding Silvio Berlusconi was always a bit of a smokescreen.

I get a lot of hate from other Milan fans when I criticize Berlusconi. People implore me to be grateful and remind me how much money he has sunk into the club over the years. Yes, I know, I assure them. So very much money… more than likely ill-gotten money at that. And it’s not as if he did it to be altruistic. He did it to get elected. And because he needed a legitimate cover for his many, many crimes, both business and personal. I’m sorry, but if a referee can call a handball based on “intent,” then I am calling Berlusconi out based on intent. And what I see is a very corrupt man who has used this club to paint himself a saint, all the while sinning in ways that would make Caligula blush. (Or perhaps he is trying to upstage Caligula? Because Caligula didn’t live long enough to do the things Berlusconi has done.)

"I don't see what the big deal is. I paid her well and got her out of jail."

And when I say all the while sinning, I really do mean it. All the while. The English version of Wikipedia has a special page that outlines many of his allegations, trials, and convictions. Some of these include mafia collusion, false accounting, tax fraud, corruption, and bribery of police officers and judges. But perhaps more spectacular is the ridiculous abuse of power he has demonstrated over the years in office. He shortened the statute of limitations on specific crimes… specifically the ones he was guilty of. So when he finally went to trial, the charges were dismissed…. because of laws he made. But that is just one example. He also passed a law stating that a Prime Minister could not be tried for a crime while in office, as it would be a distraction. And when his term ended and charges were allowed to be pressed? Ooops, that statute of limitations law kicked in again. And just in case he was actually convicted of any of these charges, he got a law in the books which stated that anyone over a certain age who was convicted of a crime would not go to jail. Yes, perhaps the thing Silvio Berlusconi does best is cover all of his bases.

Although he’s pretty good at being a bit delusional, too. In regards to his many legal issues, he said  "this is a manifest judicial persecution, against which I am proud to resist, and the fact that my resistance and sacrifice will give the Italians a more fair and efficient judicial system makes me even more proud.” And all to subvert the vote of the Italian people, according to him. Of course. This is all a giant conspiracy to bring down the pillar of purity and wholesomeness that is the man who used government helicopters to fly in hired women and guests to his infamous Bunga Bunga parties at his villa. The kind of man you want to bring home to grandma, right?

Memo to Mr. Berlusconi: Next time maybe check the birth certificate

In addition to Berlusconi’s paranoia that all of these charges over the years have been a political attempt to remove him from public office, after yesterday’s conviction, he reaffirmed his promise to "resist this persecution, because I am absolutely innocent, and I don't want in any way to abandon my battle to make Italy a truly free and just country." You know, maybe if he had led a life of upstanding moral conduct, or even a pretense of such valor, I might feel bad for the guy and think he is the victim in all of this. But he’s lied to me, he’s lied to you, and bragged about how much money he made in the process. And with such a long list of allegations and convictions, as well as what would be considered here as obstruction of justice in his self-protective lawmaking, I cannot buy into his delusion.

As of 2008, he was reported as saying he had received 577 visits by police, 2,500 court hearings, and spent €174 million in court fees. And a lot has happened in the five years since then. In fact, this is Berlusconi’s third conviction this calendar year alone, one involving wiretapping that he was sentenced to one year, and another involving tax fraud which earned him four years. And he has other appeals and cases going on still, too. In fact, with all of this money spent on legal fees and all of this time required to defend himself from these obviously deranged and politically motivated prosecutors, when does he have time for Milan?

Maybe you fool some people, but you can't fool me. The only one you're fighting for is yourself

Which brings me to my point: What exactly is it that Berlusconi is doing for Milan anymore? Bad press? Check. Miserly checkbook? Check. Frequently and publicly undermining Allegri, Galliani, and the board? Check. Many have touted him as Milan’s sugar daddy, which I think is demeaning of his pretense that he and his family love Milan. But assuming you think that’s all he is, he isn’t even good for that anymore. Much of his wealth is tied up in assets, and the rest is going “to make Italy a truly free and just country” via trying to avoid prosecution for his myriad crimes. Or to his wife. €3m per month in alimony is no laughing matter. That’s seriously got to cut into the bunga bunga budget. Or the money he would normally invest in Milan.

But club presidents are the last of the great dictatorships. Caligula would have killed to have the power that Berlusconi has, or the fervent legions of supporters in whose eyes he can do no wrong. And to have woven such a tapestry of protections so as to literally be above the law like Berlusconi has, too. In fact, if I remember correctly, Caligula actually did a few good things. Whereas Berlusconi… well he bought a lot of shiny trophies for Milan, now, didn’t he? That’s something.

3/5ths of this picture says Berlusconi's legal troubles already have impacted the club.

But I would rather have a club president who is known for jumping on scooters or firing managers faster than Galliani can deny a transfer rumor than have a club president who is constantly in the world’s eye because of his legal troubles. Because jumping on a scooter or even funding an army of managers is cheaper than the legal costs of having a convicted criminal for a club president. Because more money and fewer convictions can only be healthier for the club, in both its bottom line and its image.

My blood may be red and black, but it runs cold when anyone in the club behaves badly. And I find that more and more frequently, my veins are like ice when I hear the name Berlusconi. The black cloak of shame I feel whenever his name is mentioned with our beloved club. Despite reportedly being very charming and affable, he puts the black in the red and black, a black spot on humanity that is sadly tied not only to Italy, but to AC Milan. But certainly one cannot argue that he is a man of personal convictions.


This post inspired by the music of The Smiths’ “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”