Berlusconi tax fraud sentence upheld by Italian court

MILAN Wed May 8, 2013 2:53pm EDT

People of Freedom (PDL) party member and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi wipes his forehead as he attends the Upper house of the parliament in Rome, April 30, 2013. REUTERS/Giampiero Sposito

People of Freedom (PDL) party member and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi wipes his forehead as he attends the Upper house of the parliament in Rome, April 30, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Giampiero Sposito

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MILAN (Reuters) - A Milan appeals court upheld a four-year sentence for tax fraud against former prime minister and centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi on Wednesday, adding to the complications facing Italy's fragile coalition government.

In addition to the jail sentence for tax fraud in connection with the purchase of broadcasting rights by his television network Mediaset, the court's ruling would also bar Berlusconi from holding public office for five years.

However, neither sentence will take effect unless confirmed in a final appeal before the court of cassation when the three-stroke appeals process allowed under Italian law has been exhausted.

The 76-year-old media magnate was accused of inflating the price paid for television rights using offshore companies under his control, and skimming off part of that money to create illegal slush funds.

Berlusconi, who is facing a separate trial on charges of paying for sex with a minor in notorious "bunga bunga" parties, had appealed to reverse the four year sentence handed down in October.

However, his lawyer Niccolo Ghedini said he had little confidence that the Milan court would listen to his arguments and repeated that judges were biased against Berluscno for political reasons.

"We realized it was totally useless to give our arguments to a court of appeals that in our opinion had decided from the first day what its judgment would be," Ghedini told reporters.

Italy's top appeals court this week rejected a request by Berlusconi to move his trials out of Milan, where he argued he could not get a fair trial as judges were biased against him.

Berlusconi, head of the centre-right People of Freedom party (PDL), is not a member of the coalition administration headed by Prime Minister Enrico Letta but he has the power to bring the government down in parliament.

The next hearing of his trial for paying for sex with a minor is scheduled for May 13.

(Reporting by Manuela D'Alessandro and Naomi O'Leary; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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