A threat by former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that he will topple the government of current technocrat premier Mario Monti has sparked outrage among Italy's political classes.

Enraged by a conviction for tax fraud/evasion in a Milan court, Berlusconi, who remains the head of  the center-right People of Freedom, or PDL, party, which holds the largest share of seats in parliament, warned that he will withdraw support for Monti, a move that could lead to early elections.

In a bizarre press conference on Saturday, Berlusconi condemned the Rome government for "fiscal extortion" and blamed Monti for perpetrating a spiraling recession.

"We have to recognize the fact that the initiative of this government is a continuation of a spiral of recession for our economy," Berlusconi said.

"Together with my collaborators, we will decide in the next few days whether it is better to immediately withdraw our confidence in this government or keep it, given the elections that are scheduled."

The ex-prime minister even criticized German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former president of France Nicolas Sarkozy for seeking to destroy his "international credibility.”

The disgraced 76-year-old billionaire received a four-year prison sentence (reduced to one year under terms of an amnesty law).

He is also banned from seeking public office for a period of five years.

Berlusconi is clearly seeking to damage Monti by exploiting the Italian public's growing discontent with his government's austerity programs. Thousands of people protested the budget cuts over the weekend.

"Ours is not a democracy but a dictatorship of the judges," he told television channel TG5.

In response, Berlusconi was roundly attacked by Italian officials of all stripes.

Rosy Bindi, a member of the center-left Democratic Party, characterized Berlusconi's threats as "very, very worrying," while former Berlusconi ally Pier Ferdinando Casini, chief of the Christian Union of the Center party, called for the ex-prime minister to issue "an immediate clarification.”

Even members of Berlusconi's own PDL party sought to distance themselves from his comments.

PDL official Fabrizio Cicchitto warned that another political crisis would trigger an "explosion in bond spreads," while former Foreign Affairs Minister and PDL member Franco Frattini emphasized there existed "continuing support” for Monti.

Berlusconi would, of course, be prohibited from running for prime minister again, but he obviously seeks to maintain his influence in Italian politics.