26 Oct 2012

Berlusconi given prison sentence for tax fraud

After being sentenced to four years in prison for tax fraud, former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has his sentence cut to a year by a Milan court and may never go to jail.

Berlusconi, who has served as prime minister four times, was given the four-year jail sentence for tax fraud in relation to the purchase and sale of media rights by his company Mediaset. Shortly afterwards, the sentence was cut to a year because of an amnesty law designed to cut prison overcrowding.

The politician, who also owns AC Milan football club, may yet escape prison. In Italy, verdicts can be appealed twice before they become final and no jail time is served until the end of the appeal process.

But the ruling does mean that Berlusconi has been barred from holding political office for three years. Earlier in the week, he announced he would not run in next year’s elections as the leader of his centre-right People of Freedom (PDL) party.

Berlusconi was in court alongside 10 others in relation to a scheme to purchase US film rights through a series of offshore companies. The defendants were also accused of falsely declaring payments in order to avoid paying taxes.

It was also alleged that Berlusconi’s companies had inflated the prices of film rights when relicensing them in order to pocket a larger difference. Prosecutors had asked for a sentence against Berlusconi of three years and eight months.

The court ordered damages provisionally set at 10m euros to be paid by Berlusconi and his co-defendants to tax authorities.

“Judicial persecution”

The conviction was the media mogul’s first; other criminal probes and trials had ended in acquittal or were thrown out for statute of limitations. The 76-year-old media mogul was not in the courtroom for the verdict on the case.

Mediaset chairman Fedele Confalonieri, for whom prosecutors had sought a sentence of three years and four months, was acquitted.

Angelino Alfano, secretary of the PDL, said the ruling proved once again “judicial persecution” of the media-magnate. However, political rival Antonio Di Pietro said “the truth has been exposed”.

A separate trial over accusations that Berlusconi paid for sex with an underage prostitute is currently being heard in Milan. He denies all charges against him.