Milan

Berlusconi appeals against tax-fraud conviction

Ex-premier got four years in Mediaset film rights case

Berlusconi appeals against tax-fraud conviction

Milan, November 9 - Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi on Friday appealed against his conviction last month for tax fraud in the trading of film rights for TV broadcasts by his Mediaset media empire. Berlusconi was sentenced to four years and banned from public office for five in a verdict which accused him of having a "propensity" to commit crime - an opinion which spurred the ex-premier to vow he would stay in politics, while not standing again as premier, to fight what he called a "magistrate-ocracy". Due to a 2006 amnesty law, Berlusconi will not have to serve three of the four years of his jail sentence if the ruling is upheld on appeal. The trial, which featured 11 defendants in all, was one of two involving the media magnate. In the other, he is accused of having sex with an underage alleged prostitute nicknamed Ruby and using his position as premier to allegedly try to hush it up. Berlusconi has been tried some 30 times but has only been convicted three times - verdicts that were either timed out or overturned on appeal. The ex-premier, replaced by technocrat Mario Monti almost a year ago, has argued he is the victim of a witch hunt by a group of allegedly left-leaning magistrates. After the October 26 verdict Berlusconi told reporters he was a target of "judicial persecution" and said he had been "convinced" he would be cleared - especially as a similar case recently resulted in his favour. "The country is ceasing to be a democracy," he said.. "Something has to change". Angelino Alfano, the secretary of Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) party described the conviction as "unexpected" and "incomprehensible". "It is the umpteenth demonstration that there is a campaign of judicial attacks on Silvio Berlusconi," said Alfano, a former justice minister and favourite to be the PdL's candidate in elections next spring. "We are certain that the next levels of justice will show we are right and we hope that these judgements will arrive quickly". Party members said the ruling was an attempt to harm his political future. "This isn't a sentence, it's an attempt at political homicide," said Fabrizio Cicchitto, House whip for the PdL. "Unfortunately we have long known this was an act of using the justice system as a political tool". Stock in Mediaset has dropped since the conviction.

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