, ROME, Mar 7 – An Italian court on Thursday sentenced former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi to a year in prison over the publication of leaked transcripts from a police wiretap in a newspaper that he owns.
Berlusconi, who faces two more verdicts this month for tax fraud and having sex with an underage prostitute, can appeal the conviction which would suspend the sentence under Italian law.
Italian sentencing guidelines indicate that people aged over 75 and with sentences of less than two years do not have to actually go to prison.
Berlusconi, a billionaire media tycoon, is 76.
“I am disappointed and concerned because I am convinced that the proof was insufficient, contradictory or missing,” Berlusconi’s lawyer Piero Longo told reporters after the hearing.
“I was not expecting a conviction,” he said.
Fabrizio Cicchitto, a leading member of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party, said: “The plan to eliminate Silvio Berlusconi through the justice system is now so obvious that it is dangerous for democracy.”
“We will our voices heard loud and strong on democracy and the need for justice that is fair and worthy of a civilized country,” he said.
The party is preparing a demonstration later this month against a justice system that Berlusconi frequently portrays as left-wing and biased.
Berlusconi stood accused of violating secrecy laws after his Il Giornale daily published transcripts in 2005 that were widely seen as an attempt to discredit a senior member of the centre-left Democratic Party ahead of elections in 2006.
The leaks were about the attempted takeover of BNL bank by insurance giant Unipol.
Berlusconi’s brother Paolo, editor of Il Giornale, was sentenced to two years and three months.
Silvio Berlusconi also faces a verdict possibly as early as March 18 in a trial in which he is accused of having sex with a then 17-year-old prostitute when he was prime minister and then abusing the power of his office by putting pressure on police to release her from custody.
A verdict in his appeal trial against a tax fraud conviction from last year in which he was also sentenced to a year in prison is also expected around March 23.
Italian court dates are often changed at the last minute and Berlusconi’s lawyers have tried to slow down all the trials, invoking “legitimate impediment” because of his duties as an MP.