Berlusconi's tax fraud conviction upheld

BY: Isaac Yeboah

Silvio Berlusconi said the charges against him were politically motivatedAn appeals court in Italy has upheld the conviction for tax fraud of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The court also reinstated a four-year prison sentence and five-year ban from public office he was handed in October.

Mr Berlusconi was convicted of artificially inflating prices of film distribution rights bought by his company, Mediaset, to avoid taxes.

He is now expected to appeal against Wednesday's ruling at Italy's highest court, the Court of Cassation.

The 76-year-old has denied the charges and said they are politically motivated.

Time limit

But instead of overturning October's verdict, the Milan appeals court on Wednesday upheld his conviction for tax evasion and re-instated the original jail sentence. The four-year term had been cut to one year by a lower court because of his age.

"We knew it would go like this," Mr Berlusconi's defence lawyer Niccolo Ghedini told reporters.

There is however no real prospect of Mr Berlusconi being jailed, as he will exercise his right to appeal and the case will actually soon expire under a time limit, the BBC's Alan Johnston in Rome reports.

Nevertheless, this is another major legal blow for Mr Berlusconi, whose People of Freedom (PdL) party is part of Italy's new coalition government, he adds.

Our correspondent says that in the eyes of the law Mr Berlusconi is a convicted fraudster, but he will argue as he always does that all his legal troubles are the simply the work of his political enemies - left-wing elements in the judiciary.

In March, Mr Berlusconi was sentenced to a year in jail after being convicted of arranging for a police wiretap concerning a political rival to be leaked and published in a newspaper run by his brother. He denied the charges and is expected to appeal.

Mr Berlusconi is also currently on trial for allegedly paying for sex with an underage prostitute, and later abusing his powers by putting pressure on the police to release her from custody. He has admitted sending her money, but insists the funds were meant as a gift.

In other trials over the years, Mr Berlusconi has been accused of charges including accounting fraud, perjury, bribery and corruption. He has denied all the accusations against him and has either been acquitted or let off under statutes of limitations.

Source: BBC