Berlusconi slams tax fraud decision
For the first time in decades of criminal prosecution, a conviction against former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi finally stuck on Thursday, leaving the media mogul with a four-year prison sentence for tax fraud with all of his appeals exhausted.
But it is highly unlikely the man who long was Italy's most powerful politician will actually serve out the sentence behind bars.
While upholding his tax fraud conviction, Italy's supreme court ordered another court to recalculate the duration of a ban on holding public office that lower courts had set at five years. That could potentially reduce the time out of the limelight that threatens to interrupt, if not end, Berlusconi's political career, already tarnished by a sex scandal.
Berlusconi, who, at 76, has dominated Italian politics for 20 years, remained defiant, if shaken. In a nine-minute video address, he denounced the sentence "absolutely" baseless, saying it "deprives me of my freedom and political rights," and insisted he is the innocent victim of "an incredible series of accusations and trials that had nothing to do with reality."
The three-time premier, dressed in his usual double-breasted suit and seated before the Italian and European Union flags, swung between anger and emotion, at times his voice breaking.
But he showed little signs of abandoning politics, pledging to revive Forza Italia, the movement he founded and which swept him into power as the unchallenged leader of Italy's conservatives.
Judge Antonio Esposito, in reading the court's decision in the name of the Italian people, declared Berlusconi's conviction and prison term "irrevocable."
But three years of his sentence will be shaved off as part of a general amnesty for crimes committed before 2006 aimed at easing prison crowding. Elderly defendants usually can serve out their sentences under house confinement.
He is also expected to be able to choose to do a year of public service in lieu of confinement, a common option for first-time offenders with short sentences.
The tensely-awaited decision puts fresh pressure on Premier Enrico Letta's fragile coalition government, which relies on support from Berlusconi's forces and his own centre-left Democratic Party to pass reforms needed to restore market confidence in Italy and haul it out of recession.