Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi began his community service sentence for tax fraud at a hospice for Alzheimer's patients near Milan on Friday.
The 77-year-old billionaire tycoon, who was convicted last year and has been expelled from parliament, arrived at the Sacra Famiglia hospice in Cesano Boscone to heckles from a trade unionist in a clown hat who shouted: "To prison!"
"We Italian workers have one dream in our hearts: Berlusconi in San Vittore!" he shouted, referring to a Milan prison, before being led away by police.
Berlusconi was initially sentenced to four years in prison, later reduced to one. But he was spared jail thanks to lenient sentencing guidelines in Italy for over-70s found guilty of non-violent crimes.
His sentence will seeat the hospice once a week for up to a year.
The Catholic Church-run hospice has said it will not allow Berlusconi to use his stint for political grandstanding in front of the world's media and will treat him like any other volunteer.
The disgraced politico has dominated Italian politics for two decades and is campaigning for his Forza Italia party in upcoming European Parliament elections, even though his own candidacy has been barred. The party is expected to get 20 percent of the vote.
Massimo Restelli, head of the hospice's care services, told the La Repubblica daily that Berlusconi's introduction would be "gradual" so that he and the elderly patients can get used to each other.
"It will be small steps so as not to make any mistakes. And then he could do all sorts of things. He could help with meals, which are tricky because sometimes you have to 'remind' the patient that they are eating," he said.
"We ask everyone including Berlusconi to observe, to listen and not to get performance anxiety," he said, adding that the media magnate would be accompanied at all times by a medical worker specialised in Alzheimer's.
"We'll see if Berlusconi's presence creates some kind of close bond, if he is a reference for anyone. The guests do remember things, even if that seems absurd to people who do not know the illness," he said.
Berlusconi: 'big surprise' ahead
Berlusconi says he has been studying treatments for the disease in order to better assist patients.
"I think in the end I will stay a lot longer than I have to. I have a big surprise prepared. It took me just ten days to learn the different cure methods that can be used," the 77-year-old told a radio show.
The sentence is seen as part of a slow-moving disintegration of Berlusconi as a political force, with Forza Italia divided by bickering and top allies indicted for mafia ties and corruption.
It was Berlusconi's first definitive criminal conviction and could herald more legal troubles ahead as he appeals a sentence for abuse of power and having sex with an underage prostitute.
He is also a defendant in a trial for bribing a former left-wing senator to undermine a rival party in power at the time.
The tax fraud case has highlighted delays in Italy's justice system since the investigation began back in 2001 with police raids on offices of his media empire Mediaset when he was prime minister.
He was first convicted in 2012 and lost his final appeal last year in a case that centred on fraudulent methods used to purchase film distribution rights in order to avoid paying taxes in Italy.
Berlusconi, who has continually protested his innocence, has said he was happy with the community service sentence.
"I'm actually pleased because in my life I have always helped people," he said.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)
Date created : 2014-05-09