MILAN (AP) — An appeals court upheld the tax fraud conviction and four-year prison sentence against former Premier Silvio Berlusconi on Wednesday in a case that could see him barred from public office for five years.
In Italy, convictions are not considered definitive until all appeals are exhausted, and Berlusconi’s lawyers are expected to appeal the case to the nation’s highest Court of Cassation.
In October, a lower court convicted Berlusconi in a scheme that involved inflating the price his Mediaset media empire paid for TV rights to U.S. movies and pocketing the difference. Berlusconi has long denied the charges and says he’s a victim of politically motivated prosecutors.
Wednesday’s Milan appellate court ruling upheld the lower court’s October decision barring him from public office for five years and from managing any company for three years.
Berlusconi appeared prepared for the decision, going on his Mediaset TG5 news on Tuesday night to proclaim his innocence and portray the case as a political witch hunt against him and designed to “eliminate a political adversary.”
Berlusconi has been convicted in the past at the trial level. But the convictions have always either been overturned on appeal or seen the statute of limitations run out before Italy’s high court could have its say.
Wednesday’s ruling comes days before another one of Berlusconi’s trials approaches the final leg. Closing arguments are scheduled Monday in Berlusconi’s sex-for-hire trial. In that case, the media mogul is on trial in Milan on charges he paid for sex with an underage Moroccan teen during the infamous “bunga-bunga” parties at his villa and then tried to cover it up. Both he and the woman, Karima el-Mahroug, better known as Ruby, deny sexual contact. A ruling in that case could come before the end of the month.
In the Mediaset case, prosecutors allege Berlusconi and other the defendants were behind a scheme to purchase the rights to broadcast U.S. movies on Berlusconi’s private television network and falsely declared the payments to avoid taxes.
They said the defendants then inflated the price for the TV rights of some 3,000 films as they relicensed them internally to Berlusconi’s networks, pocketing the difference amounting to around euro250 million.