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Italy's Berlusconi given definitive conviction of four years in prison

File photo taken on March 24, 2011 shows the then Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi attending an EU spring summit in Brussels. The Italian Supreme Court on Thursday confirmed a jail term conviction for tax fraud while ordering a new appeal trial for ban on public office for former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. (Xinhua)

 

by Marzia De Giuli

ROME, Aug. 1 (Xinhua) -- For the first time after dozens of trials in his two-decade political career, Italian media tycoon and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was given on Thursday a definitive conviction of four years in prison for tax fraud.

The five judges of the supreme court rejected Berlusconi's final appeal against a verdict handed down by two lower courts which sentenced the media mogul to four years in jail, but it is commuted to one year under a 2006 amnesty law. In fact, the 70-year-old former prime minister would not serve the year behind bars but would be given social work or house arrest.

But the top judges ordered a Milan court to review the second part of his sentence, a five-year ban from public office. This would enable him to remain a senator and leader of his center-right People of Freedom Party (PdL) for the moment.

The verdict followed Berlusconi's second and final appeal in the case, which first went to trial in 2006.

Berlusconi was convicted for inflating prices in the purchase of rights to American movies for his broadcaster in order to dodge taxes, though he denied all charges, saying that he never had offshore accounts and did not know about alleged bribes to what he defined a few "unfaithful" managers.

"No one can understand the charge of violence that I was given following a series of accusations and trials without any foundations. It was a real judicial harassment that is unequal," Berlusconi said in a video address broadcast after the verdict.

The billionaire, who was born in 1936 to a middle-class family in Milan and came of business age during a period of rapid economic growth, said that he was "proud of having created a large entrepreneurial group which gave jobs to thousands of people," significantly contributing to Italy's growth.

"But in exchange, I only got a verdict which deprived me of my personal freedom and even political rights," he stressed, pledging that his party of PdL will change its name back to the one he first won power with in 1994, Forza Italia, and will be able to take power again.

However, the five-year ban from public office would become effective if parliament ratifies it, as it is usual procedure, in which case Berlusconi would have to resign from his post as senator.

But this would not necessarily cast him out from politics as he would still be allowed, as a common citizen, to head his party. His lawyers also said that they were considering taking his jail term to the European level, as "there were very solid reasons and legal arguments for a full acquittal."

Berlusconi, who was appealing other sentences in separate cases on paying a minor for sex and illegal use of wiretapping, has been tried in around 30 cases but he was never given a definitive conviction at the end of Italy's two-tier appeal process as verdicts have always either been overturned on appeal, or the statute of limitations ran out.

He has often reassured that his legal troubles would have no consequences for Prime Minister Enrico Letta's left-right government, which needs the support of his center-right party to survive, though many fear that the verdict could upset the unprecedented and fragile coalition.

Letta said after Thursday's decision that the "interest of Italy" must prevail, while President Giorgio Napolitano echoed his words by calling on the political parties to show "serenity and cohesion on institutional issues." The leader of the center-left Democratic Party (PD), which shares power with PdL, also called on Berlusconi's lawmakers to continue to back the government.

But what might come over the next few months remains completely uncertain, with Letta struggling to contain increasing unhappiness in his own Democratic Party at the alliance with the scandal-plagued Berlusconi.

The PdL counts five ministers in the coalition, including Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Angelino Alfano, who is the current PdL head and served as justice minister in the Berlusconi government from 2008 to 2011.  

 



 
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