Italy president says Berlusconi must obey law, can't pardon him

ROME Sun Nov 24, 2013 2:36pm EST

Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi appears as a guest on the RAI television show Porta a Porta (Door to Door) in Rome January 9, 2013. REUTERS/Remo Casilli

Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi appears as a guest on the RAI television show Porta a Porta (Door to Door) in Rome January 9, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Remo Casilli

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's president on Sunday rejected Silvio Berlusconi's call for a pardon over his conviction for tax fraud and told the center-right leader he must stay within the law in his protests if he is expelled from parliament this week.

A statement from President Giorgio Napolitano's office said the four times prime minister had not only failed to behave in a way that might have made a pardon possible, but had "expressed judgments and intentions of extreme gravity."

On Wednesday the Senate will vote on whether the 77-year-old Berlusconi should lose his seat, after he was found guilty in August of masterminding a complex and illegal system to reduce the tax bill of his media company Mediaset.

Napolitano was responding to a demand by Berlusconi on Saturday that the head of state should grant him a pardon without him even formally having to ask for one.

Napolitano appealed to Berlusconi "not to conduct protests which go outside the limits of respect for the institutions and for normal, necessary legality," the statement said.

On Saturday Berlusconi told an assembly of supporters of his Forza Italia (Go Italy!) party that his expulsion from parliament would be a "coup d'etat".

The party plans street protests on the day of the vote, which is expected to go against the billionaire media tycoon who has always protested his innocence.

Prime Minister Enrico Letta's Democratic Party and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement are both in favour of his expulsion, and together they have a clear Senate majority.

In early August a Milan court sentenced Berlusconi to four years in prison, commuted to a year under house arrest or in community service.

Berlusconi is expected to withdraw his party from the ruling coalition if he is expelled from parliament, but Letta is virtually sure to maintain a majority thanks to a breakaway center-right group which has defected from Berlusconi's ranks.

(Reporting by Gavin Jones; editing by Patrick Graham)

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