Rome

Berlusconi four-year tax-fraud conviction upheld

Ban of holding public office sent back to appeals level

Berlusconi four-year tax-fraud conviction upheld

Rome, August 1 - Italy's supreme Court of Cassation upheld a tax-fraud conviction against ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi Thursday, making a four-year prison sentence definitive. It is the first time Berlusconi has received a definitive conviction after over two dozen criminal cases since the media magnate embarked on a political career two decades ago. Three years of the sentence are not effective because of a 2006 amnesty. As Berlusconi is over 70, he will probably not have to serve the remaining year in prison, but will be given social work or house arrest as punishment The court suspended a five-year ban on Berlusconi holding public office, sending this part of the punishment back to the Milan appeals court for review. State prosecutors have requested be reduced to three years earlier this week. The ruling may have consequences for Premier Enrico Letta's fragile left-right government, which needs the support of Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) party to survive. Some PdL lawmakers had threatened the party would pull its backing and sink the government if the sentence was not overturned, saying their leader is the victim of persecution by left-wing magistrates targeting him for political reasons. There have also been threats that they would quit en masse and that eventual protests would include road blocks on motorways. Berlusconi has said his legal problems and the government are separate issues. The decision was announced after the five Cassation judges huddled for consultations for over six hours over the case. The three-time Italian premier has been found guilty of masterminding a system of inflated film-rights purchases at his Mediaset media empire and the use of offshore companies to create slush funds. This enabled Mediaset to dodge taxes on around seven million euros in 2002 and 2003. Berlusconi has said he had nothing to do with these dealings or authorising them as he was too occupied with political matters. He was premier at the time.

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