Silvio Berlusconi sentenced to four years in prison for tax fraud
FORMER Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi has been convicted of tax fraud and sentenced to four years in prison.
The conviction came after the first of the 76-year-old media mogul’s long series of trials, but it is unlikely he will go to prison any time soon. Cases in Italy must pass two levels of appeal before the verdicts are final.
Berlusconi was not in court yesterday for the verdict, in a case stemming from dealings in his Mediaset business empire.
But he condemned his conviction as “unreal” and said it had been the result of “politicised” judges who had made Italy “unliveable” and no longer a democracy.
He spoke to his Mediaset TV station after the Milan court convicted him of tax fraud.
He said: “If you can’t count on impartial judges in a country, the country becomes uncivil, barbarian and unliveable and stops being a democracy.
“It’s sad, but the situation of our country today is that way”.
The billionaire businessman is expected to appeal.
Angelino Alfano, Berlusconi’s designated political heir as head of the centre-right party he leads, described the verdict as “incomprehensible” and said he was confident an appeals court would throw out the conviction.
A total of 11 people were on trial. Prosecutors had alleged they were behind a scheme to buy the rights to broadcast US films on Berlusconi’s private TV networks in his Mediaset empire through a series of offshore firms and had falsely declared the payments to avoid taxes. Of the other accused, three were acquitted, including a close associate of Berlusconi, Fedele Confalonieri, the chairman of Mediaset. Berlusconi and three others were convicted – they included a Hollywood producer, Frank Agrama, who received a three-year sentence. Four were cleared because the statute of limitations had run out.
Those convicted must deposit a total of €10 million (£8m) into a court-ordered fund as appeals, which could take years, proceed.
The trial began in July 2006, but was put on hold by a now-defunct immunity law that shielded Berlusconi from prosecution while he was prime minister, until it was watered down by the constitutional court.
The trial also faced delays as Berlusconi cited conflicts with his schedule as premier.
In this and other cases against him, Berlusconi has described himself as the innocent victim of prosecutors that he contends sympathise with the left.
In the same courthouse yesterday, another Berlusconi trial was taking place. He is charged in that case with paying for sex with an underage girl and trying to cover it up. He denies wrongdoing.
Berlusconi is not the first former Italian premier to be convicted of criminal charges.
Former seven-time Christian Democrat premier Giulio Andreotti was convicted of involvement in a Mafia murder, but he was cleared on appeal and never went to jail.
Former Socialist premier Bettino Craxi eluded an arrest warrant and turned up at his villa in Tunisia in 1994 after a court in Italy charged him in a massive corruption case.
He was tried in absentia, convicted and sentenced to eight and a half years in prison. He never returned to Italy and died in exile.
Craxi was considered to be Berlusconi’s mentor, thanks to his opening up of private television in Italy from a state monopoly.
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