ROME, August 1 – Italy’s top court on Thursday confirmed a prison sentence for former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in the first ever definitive conviction in a tumultuous career for the billionaire tycoon.
The court upheld a tax fraud sentence of four years in prison of which three years are covered by an amnesty, even though Berlusconi is certain to be granted community service or house arrest instead.
The case revolves around Berlusconi’s business empire Mediaset the starting point for his first foray into politics in the early 1990s.
His tumultuous career has been constantly dogged by legal troubles which he says are politically motivated attacks by left wing prosecutors.
Security was beefed up in Rome outside the courtroom and Berlusconi’s residence, with several riot police vans seen parked nearby.
The current trial is Berlusconi’s second and final appeal in the case, which first went to trial in 2006, and concerns the purchase of television distribution rights for films.
He is also appealing convictions in other cases for having sex with an underage prostitute, abusing his prime ministerial powers and leaking a police wiretap to damage a political rival.
Prosecutors have also filed charges alleging he bribed a senator to join his ranks in a move that helped bring down the government in 2008.
“I haven’t slept for a month. I wake up at night and stare at the ceiling, thinking about what they’ve done to me,” the media magnate said in an interview with Libero newspaper on Sunday.
“I will not go into exile. Nor will I accept being entrusted to social services, like a criminal who has to be reeducated,” he said.
Former prime minister Bettino Craxi, one of Berlusconi’s mentors, fled to Tunisia in the early 1990s after being put under investigation and was convicted of corruption in absentia.
Berlusconi has said there should be no effect on the government even if he is convicted but diehard supporters are threatening to resign from parliament a move that could trigger fresh elections in the crisis hit country.