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Berlusconi challenges tax fraud conviction in Europe rights court

Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] announced Sunday that he would file a petition with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] seeking to overturn his October 2012 tax fraud conviction. An Italian court convicted [JURIST report] Berlusconi 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 asked for a sentence of three years eight months, but the four-year prison term was reduced to one year because of an amnesty law passed in 2006. A Milan appeals court in May upheld the tax fraud conviction [JURIST report], affirming his four-year sentence and ban on taking political office. In August Italy's Supreme Court of Cassation [official website, in Italian] upheld the conviction [JURIST report], marking his first definitive court conviction. 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. A Senate panel will reportedly meet Monday to determine whether Berlusconi must relinquish his Senate seat [AP report] in light of the ruling. Berlusconi's top-aide, however, argued that the ban and prison sentence should not take effect because he has yet to exhaust his rights of appeal in the ECHR.

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.

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