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Berlusconi sentenced to one year in prison for releasing private wiretaps

A Milan court on Wednesday sentenced [video] former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to one year in prison for publicly releasing private wiretaps in 2005. In particular, Berlusconi's sentence stems from his conviction of publishing the transcript of a tapped phone conversation in Il Giornale [media website], a national newspaper owned by his brother Paolo. The conversation in question took place between Berlusconi's biggest political rival at the time, Piero Fassino [official website, in Italian], and the head of Unipol [corporate website, in Italian], an insurance company that has since been restructured. The publication broke secrecy rules, as the conversation should have remained private due to the ongoing investigation into possible inappropriate interference in Unipol's attempt to take over Italian banking firm Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (BNL) [official website, in Italian]. The publication was widely viewed as an attempt by the former prime minister to damage Fassino and other center-left opponents. While Fassino was awarded 80,000 euros in damages, Berlusconi, whose center-right political formation threw the country into governmental chaos [Reuters report] after emerging as the second strongest in parliament in last week's Italian elections, will not be required to serve any jail time until he has exhausted the appeals process. Berlusconi continues to deny [La Repubblica report, in Italian] a connection to any wrongdoing and considers his charges the work of political opposition and judicial persecution.

Also on Wednesday the Supreme Court of Italy [official website, in Italian] upheld a ruling [Reuters report] clearing Berlusconi of tax fraud charges in connection with Mediatrade, the broadcast rights unit of his Mediaset [corporate websites, in Italian] corporation. However, he remains a defendant in several other cases. In January a Milan court set a timetable [JURIST report] for hearings in the former prime minister's underage sex trial, setting the last session of the trial for early March. There, Berlusconi is charged [JURIST report] with paying then 17-year-old dancer Karima "Ruby" El Mahroug for sex and abusing his power by asking police to release her after she was detained for an unrelated theft crime. Also that month, Milan judges rejected [JURIST report] Berlusconi's appeal to postpone his tax fraud trial until after the national elections. In January 2011, however, the Constitutional Court of Italy [official website, in Italian] held hearings and subsequently struck down [JURIST reports] portions of a law [materials, in Italian] backed by Berlusconi granting the premier and and other public officials temporary immunity from charges while in office. Despite numerous trials, Berlusconi has never actually served prison time.

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