EU Magistrate Paves Route for Berlusconi Business Case

(CN) – EU courts alone should preside over cases that implicate the European Central Bank, a magistrate opined Wednesday, looking at challenge by former Italy prime minister Silvio Berlusconi to opposition he faced because of his tax crimes and other offenses.

Though a copy of the decision is not available in English, a press release from the European Court of Justice says the case was referred by the Council of State in Italy.

Beruosconi, who turns 82 in September, initiated the underlying action with his media group, Fininvest, after the Bank of Italy opposed Fininvest’s 2015 acquisition of a qualifying holding in Banca Mediolanum, one of the country’s largest banking and insurance groups.

Banca Mediolanum had absorbed the company Mediolanum that year, but the Bank of Italy refused Fininvest’s application a year for authorization to hold qualifying holdings in a mixed financial company, citing Berlusconi’s 2013 tax-fraud conviction.

Though Bank of Italy ordered the sale of shares that exceeded a statutory 9.999 percent threshold, the Council of State annulled that decision in 2016 as improperly retroactive.

Meantime the European Central Bank relied on Bank of Italy’s analysis to issue a 2016 decision that opposed the Mediolanum acquisition.

“The ECB considered that there were doubts concerning the good reputation of the acquirers of the holding, in that Mr. Berlusconi had been convicted of tax fraud and had also committed other offenses, as had other members of Fininvest’s senior management,” a press release from the Court of Justice states.

Berlusconi and Fininvest pushed back, however, on the basis that the Council of State’s judgment made the Bank of Italy’s decision null and void.

On Wednesday, Advocate General Manuel Campos Sanchez-Bordona said that EU courts should “have exclusive jurisdiction to review the legality of ECB measures and of preparatory measures adopted in procedures for authorization to acquire or increase qualifying holdings in banks.”

While the advocate general’s opinion is not binding, the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice will give it consideration as it begins deliberations itself in the case.

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