Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who describes himself as the most persecuted man in history, was found guilty of tax fraud and sentenced to four years in prison in a film-rights case involving his Mediaset SpA television company.
It is unlikely that Berlusconi will serve any jail time given his age, 76, and the Italian appeals process, which can run out the statute of limitations. The court pardoned three years of the sentence. He was also barred from public office for five years, according to a sentence read today by a judge in Milan.
“He won’t go to jail because criminal sentences in the first instance aren’t executed if an appeal is presented within 15 days,” said Fabio Belloni, a criminal lawyer who previously defended Parmalat Chairman Calisto Tanzi in Italy’s biggest bankruptcy case.
“‘The sentence remains suspended until the end of the appeals process. The same thing with the ban from public office,” he said.
The ruling came in the same week that the three-time prime minister announced that he would not run for the premiership in elections due by May. Berlusconi has accused prosecutors of trying to destroy him politically and has said that he has spent more than 400 million euros ($517 million) on his legal defense in more than a dozen corruption trials since he entered politics in 1994.
Shares in Mediaset SpA, Berlusconi’s media company at the center of the case, fell 2.8 percent to 1.34 euros. That compared with an advance of 0.2 percent in Italy’s benchmark FTSE MIB index.
“The sentence confirms years of judicial persecution,” Paolo Bonaiuti, Berlusconi’s, spokesman said in an e-mailed statement.
Berlusconi’s lawyers, Niccolo Ghedini and Piero Longo, called the verdict “absolutely incredible” and “lacking legal logic,” in an e-mailed statement. They plan to file an appeal of the decision, and said “they trust” that a higher court will overturn the verdict. Berlusconi can appeal the verdict two more times under Italian law.
The ruling comes as Berlusconi faces another trial on charges of paying for sex with a minor. The revelations about his relationship with a 17-year-old Milan nightclub dancer and the so-called Bunga Bunga parties he threw at his Milan residence led to a slump in his popularity last year that contributed to his resignation as prime minister in November.
The charges in the Mediaset case stem from before Berlusconi entered politics, when he was still actively managing the media company that he founded. Fedele Confalonieri, chairman of Mediaset and a co-defendant in the trial, was absolved by the court.