A court in Milan on Friday sentenced former Italian
premier Silvio Berlusconi to four years' imprisonment for tax evasion
and banned him from holding public office for three years.
The ruling came two days after the 76-year-old businessman and politician announced he would not run again for prime minister in elections due next year.
Prosecutor Fabio De Pasquale had pleaded for Berlusconi to be sentenced to three years and eight months.
Judges backed De Pasquale's charge that Berlusconi's media firm Mediaset had adopted a fraudulent accounting scheme to inflate the price paid for TV rights acquired from the United States via offshore companies.
This allowed Mediaset to evade 14 billion euros (18 billion dollars) over the years and finance a slush fund, according to the prosecutor.
Berlusconi was one of 11 defendants. One of them, Mediaset Chairman Fedele Confalonieri, was acquitted.
Berlusconi will not serve his sentence if he - as is likely - appeals against the first instance ruling. The expiration of the statute of limitations, which the former premier shortened when he was in office, may also bring a complete end to proceedings.
The controversial leader remains in the dock in the higher-profile "bunga bunga" trial, where he is accused of having paid for sex with a minor - the go-go dancer Karima el-Mahroug, also known as Ruby Rubacuori (Stealer of Hearts).
Berlusconi, who denies all the charges, is also accused of abusing his position by pressuring police to release the then-17-year-old Mahroug after she had been arrested on theft charges by claiming she was the nephew of former Egyptian president Hosny Mubarak.
A first instance judgement on the case is expected to be delivered in December.
During a court hearing earlier Friday, the prosecution accused Berlusconi's lawyers of playing delaying tactics with their attempt to call US actor George Clooney to testify for the defence.
Clooney was summoned last week, but said he could not show up at such short notice. Another defence witness, Clooney's former Italian girlfriend Elisabetta Canalis, also said she could not be in Milan on Friday.
"Do you think it would have been possible to arrange something with the US actor in less than a week?" prosecutor Ilda Boccassini protested before the court.
Another hearing will have to be arranged to hear Clooney and Canalis, extending the duration of proceedings. Boccassini charged that Berlusconi's lawyers were wasting time in order to get the statute of limitations to expire.
Mahroug claimed to have seen Clooney and Canalis at one of Berlusconi's late night parties. The US actor has denied this, and his testimony may serve to discredit the dancer.
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