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Italian court upholds Berlusconi fraud conviction

© AFP

Video by Siobhán SILKE , Olivia SALAZAR WINSPEAR

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-05-09

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was sentenced to four years in prison on Wednesday after an appeals court in Milan upheld his conviction for tax fraud in a case involving his media company, Mediaset.

A Milan appeals court upheld former prime minister and centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi’s four-year sentence for tax fraud on Wednesday, adding to the complications facing Italy’s fragile coalition government.

In addition to the prison sentence for tax fraud in connection with the purchase of broadcasting rights by his television network Mediaset, the court’s ruling would also bar Berlusconi from holding public office for five years.

However, neither sentence will take effect unless confirmed in a final appeal before the court of cassation, making it unlikely that “Il Cavaliere,” as he is known in Italy, will find himself behind bars anytime soon.

“Berlusconi will not go to prison for at least two reasons,” Giuseppe Guastella, a journalist for Italian daily Corriere della Sera, told FRANCE 24. “Firstly, the court of cassation still needs to rule on his case, which will most likely be in the fall of 2013. Secondly, because of an amnesty law passed in 2006, three out of the four years in his sentence will be automatically annulled, and the fourth year will be dedicated to community service, given Berlusconi’s advanced age.”

The 76-year-old media magnate was accused of inflating the price paid for television rights using offshore companies under his control, and skimming off part of that money to create illegal slush funds.

Berlusconi, who is also facing a separate trial on charges of paying for sex with a minor in notorious “bunga bunga” parties, had appealed to reverse the four year sentence handed down in October.

However, his lawyer Niccolo Ghedini said he had little confidence that the Milan court would listen to his arguments and repeated that judges were biased against Berluscno for political reasons.

“We realised it was totally useless to give our arguments to a court of appeals that in our opinion had decided from the first day what its judgment would be,” Ghedini told reporters.

Italy’s top appeals court this week rejected a request by Berlusconi to move his trials out of Milan, where he argued he could not get a fair trial as judges were biased against him.

Berlusconi, head of the centre-right People of Freedom party (PDL), is not a member of the coalition administration headed by Prime Minister Enrico Letta but he has the power to bring the government down in parliament.

The next hearing of his trial for paying for sex with a minor is scheduled for May 13.
 

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-05-08

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