27 Oct 2012

Berlusconi sentenced to jail for tax fraud

6:15 pm on 27 October 2012

Italy's former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has been sentenced to jail for four years for tax fraud in connection with the purchase of broadcasting rights by his television company.

The court also ordered Berlusconi and his co-defendants to pay damages to tax authorities, provisionally set at €10 million.

Berlusconi and other executives of Mediaset, Italy's biggest private broadcaster, were accused of inflating the price paid for TV rights via offshore companies controlled by the media magnate, and skimming off money for illegal slush funds.

The investigation focused on television and cinema rights that Berlusconi's holding company, Fininvest, bought via offshore companies from US groups for €470 million between 1994 and 1999.

Berlusconi has the right to appeal against the sentence twice more before it becomes definitive and will not be jailed unless the final appeal is rejected.

Speaking after the sentencing, he accused the judiciary of attacking him for political reasons and said the conviction was an attack on democracy.

The 76-year-old is unlikely ever to serve time in jail, as he promoted legislation while prime minister that means anyone over 70 cannot be sent to prison.

A 'natural capacity for cime'

Milan judge Edoardo d'Avossa told a packed court that between 2000 and 2003 there had been significant tax evasion and "an incredible mechanism of fraud" in place around the buying and selling of broadcast rights.

The court's written ruling said Berlusconi showed a "natural capacity for crime".

The former leader's lawyers described the verdict as "totally divorced from all judicial logic" and confirmed they would appeal.

The court acquitted Mediaset chairman and long-term Berlusconi friend Fedele Confalonieri, for whom prosecutors had sought a sentence of three years and four months.

A separate trial over accusations that Berlusconi paid for sex with an underaged prostitute is currently being heard in Milan. He denies all charges against him.