AFTER 20 years of playing cat and mouse with Italian judges, Silvio Berlusconi started community service work with Alzheimer’s disease patients yesterday, part of his one-year sentence for tax fraud.
“It went well,” the former Italian prime minister said as he climbed into a limousine, flanked by security guards, outside the Sacra Famiglia nursing home near Milan following his first four-hour session withpatients.
Berlusconi, 77, was sentenced to four years in prison last year for tax evasion at his media empire, before the sentence was cut to one year thanks to anamnesty law.
Considered too old to go to jail, the three times prime minister and millionaire was handed a year of community service, which will be reduced to ten months if he obeys curfew rules.
Michele Restelli, an official from the centre, told Italian daily La Repubblica that Berlusconi’s introduction to the patients would be “gradual”, but once he got to know them during his once-weekly sessions he could help at meals, “which are tricky because sometimes you have to ‘remind’ the patient that they are eating”.
After building his political appeal on his eternal energy and youthfulness – helped by hair grafts and face lifts – Berlusconi’s punishment is humiliating blow to his image.
It also comes as he stands trial for bribing a senator and as he prepares to appeal against his seven-year sentence for paying an underage prostitute for sex.
Banned from taking political office for two years thanks to the tax fraud sentence, Berlusconi is nevertheless fronting his Forza Italia party as it campaigns ahead of European elections on 25 May.
However, the party is struggling to reach 20 per cent in polls, lagging behind the Five Star party led by Beppe Grillo and the Democratic Party led by prime minister Matteo Renzi.
Berlusconi is also facing a demand for a €500 million (£408m) divorce settlement from ex-wife Veronica Lario, Italian magazine L’Espresso reported yesterday.
Ms Lario left Berlusconi over his partying with young women.
Berlusconi was also put on the defensive this week after Claudio Scajola, a former minister considered close to him, was arrested on suspicion of helping a former Forza Italia politician flee the country after he was sentenced for co-operating with the mafia.
The politician, Amadeo Matacena, was reportedly due to hide out in Beirut, where another Berlusoni associate, Marcello Dell’Utri, fled ahead of his own possible sentencing for mafia ties.
Berlusconi has claimed Italy’s magistrates have hounded him with trumped-up charges since he entered politics in 1994, and recently said it was “ridiculous” to think that he, “the only person in the world to have presided over the G8 three times,” could be rehabilitated by community service.
However, he has been forced to rein in his diatribes recently after he was warned he risked seeing his community service switched by judges to house arrest.
Paolo Pigni, the director of the nursing home, has also forbidden Berlusconi from electioneering.
Volunteers at the centre have reported staff have been asking to be transferred to the Alzheimer’s section and relatives of patients have been timing visits to get a glimpse of Berlusconi.
But outside the centre yesterday, Berlusconi received an angry reception from a lone protester who repeatedly called for him to be sent to San Vittore jail in Milan.