Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi could soon be absolved of allegations connected with his business empire if Italy's senate approves a bill to decriminalise accounting fraud.
The upper house, or Senate, will this autumn have to deliberate over whether to approve legislation that will effectively turn fraud into a civil offence following the chamber of deputies’ decision to clear the way for the bill last Friday, the Financial Times reports today.
The news comes as new research revealed this week that more than 40% of 3,400 organisations in Europe had lost an average of 6.7m euros (£4m) to fraud over the past two years.
If passed, the bill will halve the time allowed to file a complaint after an alleged crime has been committed to seven-and-a-half years. Prisons sentences would also be significantly reduced.
This could be good news for Berlusconi. His extensive business interests have come under attack in lengthy court trials for alleged bribery, corruption and tax evasion, but none of the charges, which he has denied, have stuck.
Fraud remains one of the biggest obstacles to commerce in Europe, say experts, who are urging companies to take steps immediately to prevent further fraud. The European economic crime survey published by Big Five firm PricewaterhouseCoopers showed that in the UK alone, 70% of major companies reported that they had suffered from fraud in the past two years.
Results showed that despite 83% of UK organisations’ worries over potential for future frauds, the majority of businesses are reluctant to report economic crime fearing damage to reputation, a prolonged judicial process and little success in the recovery of stolen assets.
Rick Helsby, head of European investigations at PwC, said: ‘Fraud continues to be a major impediment to doing business for all organisations in Europe. Too few [companies] take the necessary steps of prevention or adequately equip themselves to detect fraud.
‘At a time when fraud is becoming more prevalent, harder to detect, and perpetrated in new ways, it is critical that companies start to treat fraud as a fundamental business challenge and dedicate sufficient time and resources to tackle the problem.’