Berlusconi guilty of corruption charges but escapes prison

Silvio Berlusconi, with his daughter Barbara, waves to AC Milan fans outside the headquarters of the club, of which he is president. Picture: AP
Silvio Berlusconi, with his daughter Barbara, waves to AC Milan fans outside the headquarters of the club, of which he is president. Picture: AP
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A COURT in Naples has found former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi guilty of corruption by bribing a senator to favour his centre-right alliance in Parliament a decade ago.

The court also announced it was giving Berlusconi a three-year prison sentence. But since the statute of limitations is expiring, the media mogul will not have to serve the sentence as the case will be thrown out soon before appeals can be heard. In Italy, sentences are served only after two levels of appeals are heard, which can take years.

During the trial, which began in February 2014, prosecutors alleged that a senator from a tiny centre-left party backing Romano Prodi was paid €3 million (about £2.2m) between 2006 and 2008 to switch loyalties to Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition. Berlusconi denied the charge.

Sergio De Gregorio acknowledged accepting the money while he was a senator for Italy of Values, a party headed by former anti-corruption prosecutor Antonio Di Pietro. De Gregorio’s plea bargain brought him a 20-month sentence.

The defence contended there is no proof of a deal between De Gregorio and Berlusconi and that shifting alliances are a normal part of politics in Italy.

Mr Prodi, a former European Union commission chief, was the only politician to defeat Berlusconi in elections for the premiership, in 1996 and 2006. Mr Prodi’s second government depended on a razor-thin majority in the Senate, and it collapsed in 2008 amid bickering among allies.

Prosecutors have alleged that a second defendant, Valter Lavitola, acted as a go-between between Berlusconi and De Gregorio.

The prosecution sought convictions and a five-year sentence for Berlusconi and a sentence of four years and four months for Lavitola.

Some other criminal cases against Berlusconi ended when statute of limitations expired.

He recently completed several months of community service – assisting Alzheimer’s patients in a residence near Milan – as his punishment for a tax fraud conviction stemming from dealings in his media empire.

The conviction, which was upheld by Italy’s top criminal court, cost him his Senate seat.

However, he won appeals of a conviction on charges that he paid for sex with a minor and then used his premier’s office to cover it up.

Other judicial woes could loom for Berlusconi, whose Forza Italia party is in disarray after a string of electoral losses.

Milan prosecutors are investigating whether Berlusconi or his aides paid off witnesses or potential witnesses in the sex case, concerning “bunga-bunga” parties with young starlets and aspiring show girls at the billionaire’s private residences.

Berlusconi rose to the forefront of Italian politics in the 1994 parliamentary elections, when Forza Italia gained a majority just three months after being launched.

He is one of Italy’s richest men. The local cable television company he launched in the 1970s grew into Italy’s biggest media empire, Mediaset, controlling the country’s three largest private TV stations.

His huge Fininvest holding company now owns Mediaset, plus Italy’s largest publishing house, Mondadori, the daily newspaper Il Giornale, AC Milan football club and dozens of other companies.