News Column

Berlusconi Verdict Expected Thursday

July 31, 2013

A verdict in the final appeal of the tax fraud conviction against former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is expected from Italy's highest court on Thursday, Italian media reported.

Berlusconi's lawyers were presenting the case for an acquittal on the second day of proceedings at the Court of Cassation in Rome.

"The discussions can start today and we can then adjourn to tomorrow," presiding judge Antonio Esposito said on Wednesday.

The five judges must decide whether to uphold the verdict, return the case to a lower court or acquit Berlusconi.

Berlusconi was sentenced in October to four years in prison - likely to be cut to one year under an 2006 amnesty law - and a five-year ban on holding public office for fraudulent offshore accounting by his family's media firm, Mediaset.

If the Court of Cassation confirms the verdict, it would be the 76-year-old politician and tycoon's first criminal conviction to be upheld out of more than 30 judicial proceedings he has faced.

Prosecutor Antonello Mura on Tuesday called for the court to confirm Berlusconi's conviction, but to reduce the ban on holding office to three years. Berlusconi was the "deciding head" in a systematic fraud, Mura said.

Berlusconi's centre-right political alliance reacted with cautious optimism to the prosecutor's call to reduce the ban, which defence lawyer Coppi had called a "manifest error."

Berlusconi himself did not appear in court.

Berlusconi would be unlikely to face jail time because of lenient detention rules for people over 70. He could be placed under house arrest or made to perform community service.

But if the guilty verdict is again upheld, it could threaten the fragile government of crisis-ridden Italy. Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom party is the most important partner in a grand coalition with the Democratic Party of Prime Minister Enrico Letta.

Should the court uphold the ban on public office, it would be put to the Italian Senate for approval. Berlusconi is himself a senator, and would be forced to leave office if the ban were upheld.

In Italy, verdicts can be appealed twice before they are enforced. Berlusconi's conviction was upheld on first appeal in May.

On several occasions in previous legal cases, Berlusconi was not prosecuted because the statute of limitations had expired or because, under his governments, laws were passed making it more difficult to prosecute him.

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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