Berlusconi Mediaset Tax-Fraud Conviction Upheld on Appeal

A Milan appeals court today upheld the conviction of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi for tax fraud in a film-rights case involving his Mediaset SpA television company.

An audio of the judge’s ruling was transmitted by SkyTG24. The verdict carried a four-year prison sentence when Berlusconi was convicted by the lower court in October.

Berlusconi won’t face imprisonment unless the conviction is upheld on a final appeal, which must be completed before the statute of limitations expires. That deadline is in July of next year, Corriere della Sera reported. Niccolo Ghedini, Berlusconi’s lawyer, said the appeals court ruling was a foregone conclusion.

“We expected it,” Ghedini, also a senator from Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party, said in remarks broadcast by Sky. “It was totally useless giving our contribution to an appeals court that, in our opinion, had already decided what the solution was on the first day.”

Today’s ruling comes as the three-time premier and People of Liberty, or PDL, play a key role in supporting the new government led by Prime Minister Enrico Letta. Berlusconi’s party is the second-biggest force in the governing coalition behind Letta’s Democratic Party. Peter Ceretti, an analyst with Eurasia Group in New York, said the appeals court result could cause tension among the partners in government.

‘Political Weight’

“I think the ruling will have some political weight,” Ceretti said. “Berlusconi has been fairly productive so far, although now we may see some noise and perhaps a harder line with the other coalition parties.”

Berlusconi has accused prosecutors of trying to destroy him politically and has said he’s spent more than 400 million euros ($527 million) on his legal defense in more than a dozen corruption trials since he entered politics in 1994. Berlusconi is also standing trial in Milan on unrelated charges of paying for sex with a minor and abusing the power of his office. He has denied the allegations in all cases against him.

Shares in Mediaset, which owns TV networks in Italy and Spain and news websites, rose 0.5 percent to 2.14 euros before the ruling was announced. That compares with a two-month low of 1.46 euros on March 4 when Mediaset reported its first full-year loss.

The charges in the Mediaset case stem from before Berlusconi entered politics, when he was still actively managing the company, which he founded.

Judges earlier today rejected a request from lawyers of the media tycoon-turned-politician to delay the trial. On May 6 Italy’s highest court in Rome rejected a separate request to move the trial to Brescia from Milan, both in the northern region of Lombardy. The court rejected the lawyers’ claim that the Milan court was biased.

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