An appeals court in Milan upheld Wednesday a verdict sentencing former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to four years in prison and a five-year ban from public office, as well as a three-year ban from holding office in any corporation. Berlusconi had originally been sentenced last year for tax fraud, in what prosecutors called “a systematic, exceptionally vast tax evasion scheme” resulting in the embezzlement of 250 million euros.
The ex-premier had been convicted of using his Mediaset (BIT:MS) media empire to inflate the price paid for TV rights to American movies and sending the resulting difference to overseas accounts. Berlusconi has always vehemently denied the charges and accused prosecutors of being “communist judges” politically motivated against him.
But Berlusconi is not going to prison. (He would have to serve one year behind bars, since three would be subtracted from his sentence pursuant to a 2006 law passed while he was prime minister.) He isn’t going to be forced out of politics, either. That’s because appeals verdicts are not final in Italy, where convictions are not definitive until a third trial is held before the Court of Cassation.
That court may either uphold the appeals verdict, or declare it invalid for technical reasons. In that case, the entire trial would have to be held anew, and, given the glacial proceedings of Italian criminal justice, there is a real possiblity that the statute of limitations would run out early next year, according to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.
If that happens, Berlusconi, who is still the leader of Italy’s center-right People of Freedom coalition and a key supporter of new Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s coalition government, will never see the inside of a prison.
But the media tycoon, who is worth more than $6 billion, according to Forbes, is facing a possible prison sentence in another trial for the far more notorious “bunga bunga” case.
Sentencing in that trial, also being held in Milan, could come before the end of the month. Berlusconi is accused of paying for sex with an underage woman, Karima el Mahroug, known as Ruby the Heart-Stealer, during lewd parties at one of his many residences. Both he and el Mahroug deny that there was ever any sexual contact.
Berlusconi is also accused of abusing his power as prime minister when he had el Mahroug sprung out of police custody after she had been arrested for stealing. In that case, he falsely claimed that the Moroccan teenager was the granddaughter of then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.