Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian prime minister, was sentenced to four years in prison for tax evasion, only for the prison term to be reduced swiftly to one year.
By Nick Squires, Rome and Alex Spillius
5:26PM BST 26 Oct 2012
The court in Milan said the reduction was a result of a 2006 amnesty law, passed by a rival Left-wing government, aimed at reducing prison overcrowding.
Its decision to cut his sentence by 75 per cent was a reminder of how Mr Berlusconi, despite numerous marathon legal battles and four previous guilty verdicts, has never been to prison.
Mr Berlusconi’s lawyers appealed minutes after the pronouncement of the first conviction, which included a three-year ban on holding public office.
Given the shorter sentence and their client’s record of running down the legal clock and winning appeals, the colourful 76-year-old politician and tycoon is unlikely to spend time behind bars in the near future, if at all.The statute of limitations in the case is set to expire sometime next year.
Defence lawyers Piero Longo and Niccolo Ghedini denounced the guilty verdict as “incredible”.
“It is to be hoped that in the appeals court there will be a different atmosphere,” they said, describing the decision by the Milan court as “totally divorced from all judicial logic”.
The sentence was heavier than the three years and eight months requested by prosecutors, and was the longest of the four Berlusconi has received so far in a career marked by marathon legal battles. The judges have yet to release their official explanation of their verdict or sentencing decision.
Allies of the controversial former premier reacted with fury.
Angelino Alfano, the head of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party, said the conviction was “unexpected and incomprehensible” and “the umpteenth” attack by a biased judiciary on Berlusconi.
Luca D’Alessandro, an MP from the party, said: “The politicised court in Milan has struck once again. They have given Berlusconi a four year prison sentence for a crime he did not commit, as was shown by the documentary evidence.”
The verdict comes two days after Mr Berlusconi announced he will not run in upcoming elections. He stepped down last November after Italy came under mounting pressure to deal with its high debts and he failed to come up with persuasive financial reforms.
He has been tried numerous times for his business dealings as head of the Mediaset empire and AC Milan football club, beginning before he was elected to the first of his three terms as premier in 1994.
He has always denied wrongdoing and alleged that the cases were politically motivated. In each case to date, he has been cleared or seen the statute of limitations expire.
He is also on trial in Milan on charges of paying for sex with an under-age teenager and trying to cover it up. He denies the allegations.
The court found that Mr Berlusconi and 10 co-defendants were behind a scheme by Mediaset to purchase the rights to broadcast American films on his private television networks through a series of offshore companies, and had falsely declared the payments to avoid taxes.
Prosecutors said that they inflated the price for the TV rights of some 3,000 films as they re-licensed them internally to Berlusconi’s networks, pocketing the difference that amounted to 250 million euros.
Other charges of false accounting and false statements in financial reports were thrown out because the statute of limitations expired.
The trial began in July 2006, but was put on hold by a now-defunct immunity law that shielded Berlusconi from prosecution while he was premier, until it was watered down by the constitutional court.
The trial also faced delays as Berlusconi cited conflicts with his schedule as prime minister. He is entitled to two levels of appeal.