Rome

Berlusconi recommits to govt, confident of acquittal

Tax-fraud case won't hurt coalition

Berlusconi recommits to govt, confident of acquittal

(By Emily Backus and Denis Greenan). Rome, July 12 - Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi on Friday reiterated his backing for Premier Enrico Letta's left-right government, where he is the junior partner, and said his legal woes would not hurt its efforts to complete an ambitious reform programme. Berlusconi said his party's support for the right-left coalition government should not depend on the outcome of his judicial proceedings, that his party's lawmakers should focus on the country's interests, and that he was confident he would be acquitted in the final appeal of his tax-fraud conviction. ''They are different things - also serious - but in this moment, I don't believe one should do anything as a result from (the tax fraud appeals case) that could have influence on the government,'' Berlusconi told public broadcaster RAI3's morning talk show Agora. Berlusconi's People of Freedom Party (PdL) has been veering between support the unprecedented left-right government and threats to down it after the supreme court brought forward to July 30 the final appeal in the tax-fraud conviction, which sentenced Berlusconi to four years in prison - lowered to one because of an intervening amnesty - and banned him from public office for five years. What is needed, the three-time premier said, was ''loyal support for this government'' and measures that create ''incentives for consumption and thus production'' for economic recovery. Asked about what he is telling his party's lawmakers should his sentence for tax fraud be upheld, Berlusconi said, ''The input I am giving (them) is to concentrate on the interests of the country''. ''I am serene because I never knew about that stuff,'' Berlusconi added, referring to alleged film-rights manipulation at Mediaset to avoid taxes. ''Reading the documentation, I don't believe that there can be anything but my full acquittal,'' Berlusconi said. Asked what he planned to do in case the conviction is upheld, Berlusconi said, ''I don't usually exercise my mind on facts that I believe unlikely''. If convicted, Berlusconi would not go to prison because of his age. Instead, he would be requited to do social work like a former co-imputee in a judge-bribing case, lawyer and friend Cesare Previti, who helped former drug addicts find their way back into work and society. As for the ban, it would have to be ratified by a special committee in the Senate, where Berlusconi sits. Until now such confirmations have been virtually automatic but there is speculation that the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) might split and vote against kicking the media magnate out of politics. The PD has been working with the PdL since President Giorgio Napolitano midwifed their unnatural alliance to end two months of stalemate after February's inconclusive general election. The tax-fraud case is the most immediate of Berlusconi's cases to come to a final conclusion. He is also appealing a six-year sentence and life ban for paying an underage prostitute for sex and a one-year term for involvement in the publication of a wiretap that hurt a political rival, while he may face trial for allegedly buying Senators to bring down a previous centre-left government. Berlusconi has always denied wrongdoing and claims he is the victim of politically motivated magistrates. The PdL is planning a series of protests against the judiciary across Italy later this month. The PD and PdL have vowed to keep working to implement a range of much-needed reforms including a new electoral law to prevent a repeat of February's three-way tie. They also aim to revive Italy's economy amid the longest recession in over 20 years and create jobs amid record unemployment. Abolishing an unpopular property tax called IMU - Berlusconi's key election pledge - is still dividing the partners as it is unclear how to do it without breaking EU-mandated budget restrictions.

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