Berlusconi Wins Concession From Prosecutor at Top Court

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, making his final appeal against a tax-fraud conviction, won a concession on the first day of hearings as the prosecutor asked judges to ease the maximum sentence.

The five-year ban from public office, imposed last year by Berlusconi’s original trial court and upheld in a first appeal, should be reduced to three years, Prosecutor Antonio Mura said late yesterday as he wrapped up his case at Italy’s top court in Rome. Mura, who spoke for more than four hours before a five-judge panel, said the conviction was valid and urged the court to uphold it.

The case is being closely watched in Italy as lawmakers loyal to Berlusconi, a partner in the ruling parliamentary coalition, have threatened to bring down the government if his conviction stands. Berlusconi’s defense team, led by Franco Coppi, are scheduled to present their case this morning, and the verdict could come later today. The billionaire ex-premier, who wasn’t present at the hearing for a second day, has denied the charges.

“It’s too early to say what happens,” Peter Ceretti, an analyst with Eurasia Group in New York, said of Berlusconi’s prospects following the prosecutor’s concession. “If he’s convicted, regardless of what his sentence is, tensions are going to increase and that’s not good for the government right now.”

Bond Yields Fall

Italian 10-year bond yields fell 1 basis point to 4.39 percent as of 10:37 a.m. local time. The yields have risen about 60 basis points, or 0.6 percent, since a 2 1/2-year low reached on May 2 after Prime Minister Enrico Letta enlisted Berlusconi’s support and stitched together a three-party parliamentary majority.

Berlusconi, 76, has won support from lawmakers and voters over the last decade by portraying his legal battles as persecution by judges intent on ending his political career. Berlusconi has reigned as Italy’s most successful politician for 20 years even as he fought more than a dozen criminal trials.

The request for a reduction in the potential sentence was welcomed by Coppi as he exited the courtroom. “The prosecutor made it to defend an indefensible sentence,” Coppi told reporters.

Four-Year Sentence

While the lower court also imposed a four-year prison sentence, it is unlikely Berlusconi would serve any time in jail on the tax-fraud offense, according to Andrea Castaldo, a criminal lawyer and professor at the University of Salerno. Italy’s effort to ease prison overcrowding and the leniency extended to criminals over the age of 70 would probably reduce the incarceration mandate to community service or house arrest.

Berlusconi is now also appealing convictions in separate cases on paying a minor for sex and illegal use of wiretapping. In the case before the top court, Berlusconi, whose wealth is estimated by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index at $7.3 billion, was found to have evaded taxes in the purchase of rights to American movies for his broadcaster, Mediaset SpA. He has denied all charges against him.

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