Berlusconi’s Ban From Public Office Cut to Two Years on Appeal

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s ban from holding public office, imposed after he was convicted of tax fraud, was reduced to two years by an appeals court in Milan.

The ban was cut from five years, according to a statement read over the phone by a court official today. Berlusconi’s lawyer, Niccolo Ghedini, said they will appeal the ruling with Italy’s Supreme Court, according to the Ansa newswire. Ghedini wasn’t immediately available to comment when contacted by phone.

Berlusconi, 77, is losing the political influence he wielded over the last two decades as his legal troubles intensify. Senior members of his People of Liberty party, or PDL, turned on him in an Oct. 2 confidence vote, and Prime Minister Enrico Letta has refused to come to his aid. Berlusconi faces possible expulsion from the Senate in a vote in the coming weeks.

The sentence is “another reminder to Berlusconi and the world that his days are numbered,” said James Walston, a professor of international relations at the American University of Rome. “There’s a sort of inexorability of all these things closing in him.”

The tax-fraud conviction, tied to evasion by his Mediaset SpA in 2002 and 2003, has already been rendered final. The billionaire’s appeals were exhausted on Aug. 1 when the Supreme Court upheld his guilty verdict and sent the public-office ban, which represents a portion of the sentence, back to the appeals court for review. Berlusconi’s four-year prison sentence was confirmed by the top court in its August ruling.

Jail Time

The billionaire media entrepreneur is unlikely to spend a day in jail due to leniency measures that he and former Prime Minister Romano Prodi created in 2005 and 2006. The provisions reduce his term to a year, and he remains free as the court decides whether to have him complete the sentence under house arrest or in a supervised community-service program.

Berlusconi’s expulsion from parliament was recommended on Oct. 4 by the Senate committee for elections and immunities, which ruled that his tax-fraud conviction runs afoul of a 2012 anti-corruption law. The full chamber will be called to ratify the committee’s decision with a vote.

The appeals court ruling doesn’t alter the expulsion process.

Berlusconi’s career has been in decline since his inability to contain debt-market speculation forced him to resign the premiership in November 2011. He made a comeback in this February’s general elections, finishing second, and became a partner in Letta’s broad ruling coalition.

Bruising Partnership

That collaboration was bruised in the Oct. 2 confidence vote as Berlusconi’s attempt to bring down the government was thwarted. The PDL, the ruling coalition’s second-biggest group, was split by the vote as Deputy Prime Minister Angelino Alfano and other senior members defied Berlusconi and ensured the survival of Letta’s administration.

Berlusconi is appealing criminal convictions for illegal use of wiretaps, abuse of power and engaging a minor in prostitution. He has denied all wrongdoing, saying his trials amount to political persecution.

Berlusconi’s second government approved a November 2005 law giving some convicts over the age of 70 the option of serving sentences at home. That measure was dubbed the “Save Previti” law by opponents because it ultimately allowed Cesare Previti, a Berlusconi lawyer who was convicted of bribing a judge, to enter house arrest.

Berlusconi can thank Prodi, a long-time political adversary, for a clemency measure passed in July 2006 that knocks up to three years off sentences for crimes committed before May 3 of that year. That law was dedicated to the late Pope John Paul II, who had requested a clemency provision in a 2002 address to parliament.

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