Italian prosecutors approved a request by Silvio Berlusconi on Thursday for the three-time prime minister to do community service rather than undergo house arrest following a tax fraud conviction. A final ruling is due in the coming days.
Italian media said Berlusconi's lawyers requested that he be assigned to work one day a week in a centre for physically and mentally disabled people near his home in Arcore.
Right-wing daily La Stampa quoted his lawyers as saying that Berlusconi would be able to "give hope" to the disabled. It said the centre had not yet been created and that the media magnate "could in fact be its patron".
"He would be able to show off his relentless optimism and use it for the campaign" ahead of European Parliament elections in May, La Stampa said.
The move came during a hearing for the billionaire tycoon in Milan that lasted nearly two hours.
Berlusconi himself was not present for the hearing, while stock in his Mediaset business empire fell sharply by 3.1 percent to four euros a share.
A small group of supporters from Berlusconi's Forza Italia party rallied outside his villa near Milan, where Italian media said the magnate was holed up with his family and his personal doctor.
‘Like Suu Kyi’
The 77-year-old was initially sentenced to one year in prison but will avoid jail time because of Italy's leniency for over-70s, and the period is likely to be further reduced to nine months for good behaviour. A final ruling on the community service request is due in the coming days.
Berlusconi has been expelled from parliament over his conviction and is banned from standing as a candidate in elections for six years.
He continues to protest his innocence and says he has been persecuted by a left-wing judiciary.
His centre-right party has suffered an internal split and lost support since he almost won last year’s national election, but Forza Italia is still one of Italy’s major parties with about 20 percent of the vote, according to opinion polls.
On Thursday the party’s lower house leader, Renato Brunetta, compared Berlusconi with Burmese Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent years under house arrest and became one of the world’s most prominent political prisoners.
“Berlusconi is a symbol and you can’t silence symbols, you can’t muzzle them and you can’t block them,” Brunetta said.
"Think of Aung San Suu Kyi who was under house arrest and became a global symbol. When you try to shut them up or block them, they become even stronger," he said.
Experts said it is probable the court will decide for community service since this is Berlusconi's first definitive conviction despite more than 20 years of legal tussles.
The conditions are easier than house arrest but Berlusconi will still have to respect a curfew and will be banned from meeting other people with criminal convictions, which includes at least one close friend.
There will also be some limitations on his movements.
Under normal rules he would not be allowed to leave the borders of the Lombardy region, of which Milan is the capital, and would have to seek a special exemption if he wants to travel to Rome for political engagements.
He is currently involved in two other court cases.
In a trial set to start on June 20, he will appeal a seven-year prison sentence and lifetime ban from parliament for having sex with an underage 17-year-old prostitute and abusing his official powers.
He is also a defendant in a trial for allegedly paying a three-million euro ($4 million) bribe to get a senator to join his party in 2006 in a move that helped bring down a rival centre-left government.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-04-11