Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] was found guilty of tax fraud [judgement, PDF, in Italian] on Friday and sentenced to four years in prison on charges that his media empire Mediaset [corporate website, in Italian] purchased television rights for US movies through offshore companies and falsely declared the costs on its taxes. The prosecutors had asked for a sentence of three years eight months [JURIST report], but the four-year prison term was reduced to one year because of an amnesty law passed in 2006. Both the prison term and a ban on taking political office will not take effect until all of his appeals are exhausted [BBC report]. In addition to Berlusconi, 10 other individuals were on trial. Three individuals were acquitted, including the Mediaset chairman, three were found guilty along with Berlusconi and four were released because the statute of limitations had run. Berlusconi and his co-defendants were also ordered to pay 10 million euros (USD $12.9 million) in damages. Berlusconi stated that the verdict was the result of judicial harassment. Because of the statute of limitations and the fact that the case took six years to complete and two levels of appeals remain, Berlusconi is unlikely to ever serve his sentence.
Berlusconi, who stepped down as prime minister last November, has been a defendant in nearly 50 cases but has never served a single prison sentence due to either successfully appealing or having the statute of limitations on the charge expire. In addition to the tax fraud charges, he is also facing charges of publicly releasing private wiretaps, embezzlement and paying for sex with an underage prostitute [JURIST reports] and abusing his power by having the police release her. In January 2011 the Italian Constitutional Court held hearings and subsequently struck down [JURIST reports] portions of a immunity law backed by Berlusconi that would have granted the premier and other public officials temporary amnesty from any charges while holding office.