MILAN Silvio Berlusconi has lost a legal bid to reclaim his passport, judicial sources told Reuters on Wednesday, leaving the scandal-hit former prime minister stranded in Italy while fellow conservatives travel to a conference near Brussels.
Berlusconi's passport was confiscated when he was convicted of tax fraud in August and sentenced to four years in prison, commuted to a year under house arrest or in community service.
He has repeatedly denied suggestions he might flee abroad, a move that would follow in the footsteps of another ex-prime minister, Bettino Craxi, who spent the last years of his life in the 1990s in Tunisia after a corruption conviction.
The court on Monday dismissed the argument of Berlusconi's lawyers that stopping him going to the meeting flouted Europe's Schengen accord on the free movement of citizens, the sources said.
The accord abolished border controls but was not set up to allow people to travel without valid documents, the court ruled, according to the sources.
Mariastella Gelmini, former education minister and a senior official in Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, said the court's decision was part of "a chain of attacks" aimed at denying Berlusconi his political rights.
"His absence from the meeting of the European Popular Party should be good reason for all the other European center-right leaders to reflect on the state of justice in Italy," she said.
Berlusconi's spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
The billionaire media tycoon was invited to the European Popular Party meeting by Joseph Daul, the head of the movement's group at the European Parliament.
Berlusconi, 77, who was expelled from the Italian parliament last month, has applied to do community service but has still not begun serving his sentence.
He is currently appealing against other convictions for abuse of office and paying for sex with an under-age prostitute. But he says he will remain in front-line politics, leading his Forza Italia party from outside parliament.
Berlusconi denies all wrongdoing in all of the cases against him and says he is persecuted by politically motivated prosecutors and judges.
(Reporting by Sara Rossi, writing by Gavin Jones; Editing by Andrew Heavens)