Berlusconi asks to serve fraud sentence helping the disabled

Thu Apr 10, 2014 11:02am EDT

* Court to decide sentence for former PM by April 15

* Berlusconi wants freedom to continue political activity

* House arrest, community service are most likely options

By Emilio Parodi

ROME, April 10 (Reuters) - Silvio Berlusconi has asked to serve his one-year sentence for tax fraud helping disabled people, judicial sources said ahead of a hearing to decide what form of punishment the former Italian prime minister will receive.

Later on Thursday a Milan tribunal will begin considering the request and must issue its decision by next Tuesday.

The ruling will be crucial in determining what role the 77-year-old - still the most influential political figure on Italy's right - can continue to play in public life over the coming year.

The court could in theory rule that Berlusconi must go to prison, but this is considered highly unlikely. Far more probable is that the media tycoon will be sentenced to house arrest or community service.

Berlusconi's most immediate concern is to be able to campaign at the head of his Forza Italia party for European Parliament elections next month. The court could either facilitate this or make it virtually impossible by setting strict limits on his freedom of movement and action.

Berlusconi's lawyers proposed to the court that their client could "motivate" disabled people at a new home to be opened in the countryside outside Milan.

The four-times prime minister has dominated Italian politics since the mid-1990s, but was expelled from the Senate last November after being convicted of masterminding a complex system of tax fraud at his Mediaset television network.

His four-year jail sentence was commuted to one year under a law aimed at reducing prison overcrowding, and, under Italy's snail-paced justice system, it is only this month, more than 10 years after the crime and eight months after the verdict, that it will be decided when and how he will serve his sentence.

After completing the first six months, Berlusconi's sentence will automatically be reduced to 10 and a half months. If his behaviour is considered impeccable it may be reduced further, to nine months.

Berlusconi continues to protest his innocence and says he has been pursued by a left-wing judiciary. (Writing by Gavin Jones; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)