Italy's Supreme Court of Cassation [official website, in Italian] on Thursday upheld a jail sentence for former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was convicted [JURIST report] of tax fraud in October. The court's decision upholds a four-year prison sentence, marking his first definitive court conviction after years of court battles over charges, including paying a minor for sex. The court, however, declined to rule on the lower appeals court five-year ban on political office, sending the matter back to the lower court for reconsideration. Despite the ruling, it is still unlikely that Berlusconi will ever serve time due to the statute of limitations and the fact that the case took six years to complete. In a video message [video, in Italian] released after the verdict, Berlusconi called the sentence "irresponsible," stating that the judicial authority to hand out jail sentences is the "most terrible of powers."
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.