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Italy top court hears Berlusconi tax fraud appeal

Italy's highest court, the Court of Cassation [official website, in Italian] began hearing an appeal by Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] of his tax fraud conviction, which, if upheld, would prevent the former prime minister from taking political office for five years. Prosecutors are seeking to reduce [Reuters report] the five-year ban to three on technical legal grounds that the lower court erred in punishing Berlusconi on penal instead of tax law. Berlusconi was convicted in October on charges that his media empire Mediaset [corporate website, in Italian] purchased television rights for US movies through offshore companies and falsely declared the cost on its taxes. A Milan appeals court upheld [JURIST report] that ruling [SkyTG24 report, in Italian] in May. Experts have agreed that it is unlikely Berlusconi will serve any jail time [AFP report] for his accompanying four-year sentence.

Berlusconi has been a defendant in several cases. In June Berlusconi was convicted [JURIST report] on charges of underage prostitution and abuse of power. He was found guilt of paying a 17-year-old dancer for sex while he was in office and for abusing his power by asking police to release her when she was being detained for an unrelated crime. The Milan court sentenced him to seven years in prison and barred him from public office for life. In Italy debarment is not effectuated until the appeals process has been exhausted. In May Italian prosecutors accused [JURIST report] Berlusconi of having paid former senator Sergio De Gregorio €3 million following the parliamentary election in 2006 to defect from the small Italy of Values party and join the center right. Prosecutors want De Gregorio, who has admitted to taking money, to stand trial alongside Berlusconi.

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