Berlusconi’s Prison Sentence Commuted to Service With Elderly

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi remains one of Italy’s most influential politicians, helping Prime Minister Matteo Renzi shape policy and preparing his own Forza Italia party for European elections May 22 to May 25. Photographer: Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had his one-year prison sentence commuted to community service caring for the elderly.

The 77-year-old billionaire, whose tax-fraud conviction was upheld last year by Italy’s top court, will be required to work at least four hours a week at a site to be determined, according to a Milan court statement. Berlusconi was unlikely to go to jail because of his advanced age. The judges opted to assign him to community service instead of serving the sentence under house arrest.

Berlusconi remains one of Italy’s most influential politicians, helping Prime Minister Matteo Renzi shape policy and preparing his own Forza Italia party for European elections May 22 to May 25. The ruling today closes the proceedings in the tax-fraud case and leaves Berlusconi battling criminal charges from abuse of power to engaging a minor in prostitution.

“The question is to what extent the sentence would limit his ability to” participate in the campaign for European elections, said Federico Santi, an analyst with Eurasia Group in London. “Community service is less bad than house arrest, but it’s still reasonably restrictive.”

The ruling largely ties Berlusconi to his home region of Lombardy in northern Italy. He will be allowed to travel to Rome Tuesday through Thursday of each week. For all other trips, the ex-premier must obtain the court’s permission. His lawyers said in a statement they were satisfied with the ruling.

Berlusconi has denied all wrongdoing and said his legal troubles amount to political persecution. The tax-fraud case centered on the purchase of film rights at his Mediaset SpA television broadcaster.

Berlusconi is submitting to judicial punishment for the first time after wrangling with prosecutors for much of his 19-year tenure in parliament. The tax-fraud conviction led to his expulsion from the Senate and loosened his grip on Italian political power.

Berlusconi is collaborating with Renzi, 39, on an overhaul of Italy’s electoral and political system. Forza Italia, which isn’t part of Renzi’s governing coalition, has pledged to help the premier pass the broad changes to institutions that Renzi and Berlusconi have discussed.

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