Italy’s Supreme Court of Cassation confirmed on Thursday a four-year prison sentence for former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, but overturned a five-year ban from public office that would have kicked the billionaire tycoon out of politics and jeopardized Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s government, which depends on Berlusconi’s support in parliament.
Berlusconi had been sentenced for tax fraud last year. His four-year prison term will be reduced to one year because of a law shortening prison terms for certain crimes. The former prime minister will never see the inside of a jail anyway; the remaining year would be served under house arrest, at one of his several palatial homes, because he is more than 70 years old.
In a partial victory for the man who has been Italian prime minister longer than anybody since World War II, Berlusconi will not be banned from public office immediately. He still faces the possibility of a ban for less than five years, because the Supreme Court is asking a lower court to “recalculate the length of the ban,” reported Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, saying that Berlusconi could still be banned from office for up to three years.
That decision will come no sooner than in the fall, and is itself subject to another appeal before the Supreme Court of Cassation. So Berlusconi isn't in immediate danger of losing his Senate seat. According to the Rome-based daily newspaper La Repubblica, he will need to choose by October whether he opts to spend his one-year sentence at home under house arrest or "in the care of social services," as the law allows.
The political consequences on Italy's coalition government are as yet unclear. Most observers believed, before the verdict, that a negative outcome for Berlusconi would result more or less immediately in his party withdrawing support for PM Letta, in hopes of forcing an early election that Berlusconi could try to win. But the possibility of a ban from public office complicates that scenario -- and at this point, it isn't clear what Berlusconi will do.