Berlusconi Nominates New Minister Awaiting Trial
On June 19 a new minister, Aldo Brancher, was nominated to take over the government’s efforts to pursue what is known in Italy as “federalism,” a plan long sought after by the separatist party Lega Nord.
Brancher is a highly controversial figure in recent Italian history.
As journalist Marco Travaglio pointed out on Il Fatto Quotidiano, Brancher was arrested on June 18, 1993, right in the middle of the Tangentopoli scandal that rocked Italian politics in the early ’90s.
Brancher, who at the time was working for Berlusconi’s Fininvest, was accused of bribery by Giovanni Marone, former secretary to Health Minister Francesco De Lorenzo. Marone had this to say about Brancher:
“Brancher came to me on behalf of Fininvest to ask for a larger slice of advertising in the anti-Aids campaign [on the Fininvest TV channels]. And when this privilege was realized, he was thankful and paid me with 300 million lire (approximately $150,000) in two payments.”
After three months in jail Brancher was released and then charged 2 years and 8 months of jail-time for illegal financing and false accounting.
The third and final degree of justice got him off the hook thanks to Berlusconi, who in the meantime had become head of the government, starting to pass all sorts of laws favorable to his many legal troubles.
The illegal financing charge was dropped for taking too long and false accounting had been decriminalized in 2002… by Berlusconi’s government.
By nominating Brancher as Minister for the Implementation of Federalism (that’s the new minister’s formal title) Berlusconi has saved his friend once again.
A trial for an alleged embezzlement was supposed to start on June 26.
In 2005, prosecutors in Milan detected strange activity at the Banca Popolare di Lodi bank account of Luana Maniezzo, Brancher’s partner. The bank account had received 300,000 euros in two years. That money is allegedly a gift from former banker Gianpiero Fiorani, who told prosecutors:
“With Brancher I have had various economic encounters: a sum in 2003 on Luana Maniezzo’s account; in 2004, I handed 100,000 euros in the Lodi office to thank him for the parliamentary activity to help Fazio; 100,000 euros in 2005 in Rome; 200,000 euros in Lodi when I handed Brancher an envelope which he was supposed to share with Calderoli […] who needed money for his political activity.”
Now that Brancher is minister he has nothing to worry about, since the Berlusconi government recently passed a law allowing public officials to postpone trials every six months if they have some other thing to do in their busy schedules.
I’m sure Brancher will find something to do to have his upcoming trial postponed, although Lega Nord leader Umberto Bossi reminded his voters today that the only people working on the federalist project are him and super-macho minister Roberto Calderoli, not Brancher.
Update: On June 24 Brancher has indeed taken advantage of the “legitimate impediment” law and the June 26 trial hearing will not take place.
As Repubblica‘s Marco Bracconi wrote in his blog, “everything has happened in broad daylight. Clear, glaring, crystalline. Even transparent. With clear and mathematic preciseness.
The same mathematic preciseness would imply the loss of a few million votes for the ruling party of the head of government.
But in Italy it doesn’t happen and probably won’t happen.