UPDATE, 12:50 PM: Italy’s Supreme Court has upheld the tax fraud verdict and one-year prison sentence for billionaire Italian politician/media mogul Silvio Berlusconi, but because of his age (he’s 76) it’s unlikely he’ll go to jail, the BBC reports. The court did order a review of a five-year ban on public office that was part of the original sentence. Berlusconi faces house arrest or community service according to the report. The ruling today by Rome’s Court of Cassation came after a three-day hearing.
PREVIOUS, Tuesday: Italy’s Supreme Court will deliver its verdict in the tax fraud case against billionaire Italian politician/media mogul Silvio Berlusconi either tomorrow evening or on Thursday, his attorney said today. The court started hearing the case today and is the last stop on the appeals circuit for the Mediaset chief. He was sentenced in October last year to four years in prison and a five-year ban from politics for having inflated prices paid for broadcast rights to U.S. movies and TV shows via offshore companies controlled by his Fininvest holding company. Berlusconi and other execs were then alleged to have skimmed off part of the money to create illegal slush funds. Mediaset has benefited from an essentially free pass in terms of antitrust and other rules thanks to Berlusconi’s place in politics. But if the mogul were no longer allowed to stand for office, the conglomerate could be subject to any number of unfavorable new laws. Shares in Mediaset and other companies controlled by Fininvest were all up in trading today.
There have been fears that Italy’s coalition government could fall apart if Berlusconi is banned from politics given his key role as the leader of the opposition People of Freedom party. But while hawks have called for the party to withdraw its trust from the government on a Berlusconi conviction, the ultimate decision would come from the man himself. His ousting from politics would also have to pass a parliamentary vote, says think tank Open Europe. If the ruling is upheld, it’s unlikely Berlusconi would be forced to serve any jail time because of his age. Although he’s often been in court over the years, this marks the first time Berlusconi is facing definitive conviction. It is still possible he could be fully acquitted by the Supreme Court or that the case be ordered back to the Court of Appeal. If the latter happens, it’s likely the statue of limitations would run out.