AFTER battling Italy’s justice system for 20 years, Silvio Berlusconi has been ordered to carry out a year’s community service in an old people’s home as punishment for tax fraud.
A Milan judge yesterday ruled the former Italian prime minister must work for four hours, one day a week, at the Fondazione Sacra Famiglia – a centre for the elderly and disabled near Milan.
The court decided as part of his first sentence, Berlusconi, 77, must also reside in the Lombardy region but allowed him to travel to Rome, in the Lazio region, between Tuesdays and Thursdays, on condition he was back in his villa near Milan by 11pm on Thursdays.
The decision follows Berlusconi’s sentence for four years for tax evasion at his media empire last year, which led to his ejection from the Senate and a ban from running for office for two years. The sentence was cut to one year thanks to an amnesty law passed to reduce the prison population.
Berlusconi was never likely to receive a jail term due to his age, but ahead of the ruling he did fear house arrest.
His lawyers called the decision “balanced and satisfactory”.
With European elections due in May, Berlusconi will now be able to actively campaign on behalf of the Forza Italia party he founded, even if he cannot stand as a candidate. Although he lags in the polls with about 20 per cent of the vote, behind the Democratic Party led by prime minister Matteo Renzi, 39, Berlusconi still holds political clout in Italy and dined with Mr Renzi on Monday.
Carrying out community service does mark a humiliating chapter in the political career of the media mogul who has long claimed Italy’s magistrates are carrying out a witch hunt against him.
After spending recent years fighting off old age through face lifts, hair grafts and the company of young women, he now faces months of entertaining institutionalised pensioners.
Paolo Pigni, the director of the retirement home, said yesterday he was still deciding what tasks to give the former cruise ship crooner.
He said: “We have not worked out the details. He will join one of our staff and carry out an activity suited to his character.”
Fearing a media onslaught on the days Berlusconi is on duty, Mr Pigni said he hoped his presence “won’t be an excessive distraction to the inhabitants”.
Instead of shunning the limelight as he carries out his social work, Berlusconi may see it as ideal publicity as he goes after the votes of Italy’s growing army of pensioners.
A Rome branch of Forza Italia has already offered 50 per cent off the price of dentures to voters signing up to join the party.
Berlusconi’s biggest challenge ahead of the European elections is shoring up support within his party, which has seen mass desertions to the New Centre Right party.
This week Berlusconi was abandoned by his long-time spokesman Paolo Bonaiuti, who has spent years insisting Berlusconi was misquoted after his notorious gaffes.
Marcello Dell’Utri, who co-founded Forza Italia with Berlusconi in the early 1990s, is in custody in Beirut after fleeing Italy ahead of a possible conviction for mafia collusion.
Berlusconi himself is still on trial in Naples for bribing a senator to join his party and will start his appeal in June against a seven-year sentence for paying an underage prostitute for sex.
As he gears up for the European election campaign, Berlusconi has been warned by judges that if he makes his customary “offensive” remarks about the judiciary, his community service may be revoked, leaving him facing house arrest.