Berlusconi Loses Challenge Related to Milan Tax Fraud Conviction

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi lost a procedural challenge over a court’s failure to grant him a delay to attend a Cabinet meeting in a case where he was eventually convicted of tax fraud last year.

The court in Milan was correct in 2010 when it denied Berlusconi, who was premier at the time, a trial delay that he said was needed to allow him to oversee a Cabinet meeting, Italy’s Constitutional Court said today in an e-mailed statement. Berlusconi failed to provide reasons why the Cabinet meeting was moved into conflict with his court appointment and offer alternative dates, the Rome-based court said.

“It was up to the judicial authority to determine that it wasn’t an absolute impediment” to Berlusconi’s attendance at the trial, the court said in the statement.

The October conviction was upheld last month by an appeals court and is the furthest advanced of three criminal trials threatening to interrupt Berlusconi’s political career. Berlusconi, a Senator, has denied wrongdoing in all of the cases against him and said today the ruling won’t influence his political responsibilities.

Berlusconi, 76, remains one of Italy’s most powerful people, commanding loyalty from about a quarter of the country’s electorate and overseeing a business empire spanning finance and media. He is the head of the second-biggest party in Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s parliamentary coalition and ranks 182nd in the Bloomberg Billionaires Index with a $6.7 billion fortune.

“The Constitutional Court’s decision today, which goes against common sense and the entire of the Court’s own precedent, won’t have any influence on my personal commitment, loyal and convinced, to support the government,” Berlusconi said in an e-mailed statement.

Legal Battles

Berlusconi’s legal battles have won him backing from some voters, who view him as the victim of a politicized judiciary. A group of supporters called “Silvio’s Army” met yesterday in Rome to protest the accusations against Berlusconi.

The tax-fraud conviction carried a four-year prison sentence and five-year ban from public office when it was handed down last year. It involves film-rights transactions and Berlusconi’s Mediaset SpA television company. Berlusconi’s lawyers are preparing a final appeal at the Supreme Court.

In Italy, sentences aren’t definitively enforced until all appeals are exhausted. Leniency on an incarceration order is often granted to offenders over the age of 70, meaning Berlusconi may be spared jail time even if his conviction is upheld by the final court.

In addition to the fraud case, the former premier is facing a verdict June 24 in a case accusing him of paying for sex with a minor and abusing the power of his office. He is appealing a March conviction in a wiretapping trial, and Naples prosecutors announced in February he was under investigation on suspicion of corruption in parliament. Berlusconi has denied all the charges.

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