Ever since former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi left office in 2011, there has been speculation that his myriad legal troubles would eventually catch up with him. On Friday, they did. A court in Milan sentenced the 76-year-old to four years in jail for tax fraud relating to his broadcasting company Mediaset. In addition, according to the website of the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, Berlusconi has been prohibited from occupying all public offices.
Despite the sentence, it remains unclear whether the former premier will ever spend any time behind bars. His lawyers immediately announced that he would appeal the sentence, saying in a statement that the verdict was "absolutely incredible" and "totally divorced from all judicial logic." Berlusoni would not be jailed unless the verdict is upheld by the ensuing appeals process, which promises to be a lengthy one.
The court on Friday also mandated that Berlusconi and his business associates pay some 10 million to Italian tax authorities.
Italian prosecutors had asked for a sentence of three years and eight months. Berlusconi was one of a total of 11 defendants in the Mediaset trial, which began fully six years ago. He was found guilty of being personally involved in a scheme to artificially inflate the cost of television rights using offshore companies under his control. The money thus generated was used to establish illegal slush funds, the court ruled. Berlusconi, Milan public prosecutor Fabio De Pasquale found, led the "chain of command."
'Out of Love for Italy'
De Pasqale argued that Mediaset was able to boost television rights it was selling by hundreds of millions of euros. He asked that all 11 defendants be sent to jail.
Berlusconi insisted on his innocence throughout the trial. As head of government, he pushed through several laws aimed at shielding himself from potential punishment in connection with the Mediaset trial as well as several other cases still pending. The laws also meant that the proceedings were interrupted for years at a time, a strategy seemingly aimed at voiding the charges by way of the statute of limitations.
The verdict comes just days after Berlusconi announced that he would not seek a fourth term in general elections scheduled for next June. "I will not run for the office of prime minister," he announced on Wednesday, a decision taken "out of love for Italy." While he said that he still "had enough strength and a head on my shoulders," his role from now on would be that of a consultant for his party.