TURIN (Reuters) - An Italian prosecutor on Friday asked for a nine-month jail sentence for Beppe Grillo, the leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, who is accused of breaking a police seal on a building during a protest, a courtroom official said.
The 5-Star Movement rode a popular wave of disgust at a political class perceived as corrupt and took a quarter of the votes in its first-ever national election a year ago.
Grillo is the dynamo behind the movement, whose success is fuelled by his fiery speeches in town squares and by his blog, one of Italy’s most popular. The 5-Star Movement currently has the support of 20 to 25 percent of Italy’s voters, polls show.
Former comedian Grillo and about 20 activists of the No TAV movement, which campaigns against a high-speed train line between France and Italy, are accused of breaking a police seal on a wooden hut close to the train line that had been cordoned off by authorities in December 2010.
The 5-Star support base overlaps with the No TAV movement, which says a Turin-Lyon train line is a vanity project that takes money from struggling ordinary Italians and threatens the environment.
In a light-hearted entry on his blog Grillo wrote that he admitted entering the hut, which was built by the protesters, and having a bowl of cornmeal porridge and a glass of wine inside, but there was no seal on the door for him to break.
He questioned the wisdom, as Italy struggles to rein in its finances, of spending public money on a trial against 20 people for breaking a seal.
No TAV activists are often blamed for violence in protests, which have hit cities across the peninsula. They have broken out as the Italian economy dipped in and out of recession since the financial crisis of 2008, governments imposed austerity to cut debt and unemployment hit levels not seen since the 1970s.
According to Italian media reports, Grillo is also under investigation on suspicion of “inciting activists to break the law” due to a open letter he wrote to the police and army asking them not to stand between protests and the Italian political class.
Grillo has a conviction for manslaughter relating to a car accident in 1981, something which excluded him from running for parliament himself under his own movement’s rules that those with criminal convictions should not hold office.
The next hearing in the Turin trial is due on February 14.
Reporting by Gianni Montani, writing by Naomi O'Leary; Editing by Larry King