* Court to hear former PM's final appeal on July 30
* Berlusconi optimistic that appeal will succeed
* Says he ready to face jail, would never flee country
ROME, July 28 Former Prime Minister Silvio
Berlusconi said he would not flee Italy and was ready to go to
jail rather than face house arrest or community service if a
court upholds his conviction for tax fraud next week.
Italy's highest appeals court will on Tuesday hear
Berlusconi's final appeal against a four-year prison sentence
and a ban from public office for tax fraud in connection with
the purchase of broadcasting rights by his television network
He told Libero, a newspaper which supports him, that he
would never become a fugitive like the late Bettino Craxi, a
former prime minister who fled to Tunisia to escape a jail
sentence for corruption and spent the last years of his life in
"I will not go into exile, like Bettino Craxi was forced to.
I will also not accept being handed over to social services,
like a criminal that has to be re-educated," he said in comments
published on Sunday.
If the Court of Cassation rejects Berlusconi's appeal he
could serve only one year of his sentence due to a 2006 amnesty
law, and at the age of 76 he would likely be granted house
arrest, but he challenged judges to put him behind bars.
"If they convict me - if they assume that responsibility -
then I'll go to jail," he said.
Later on Sunday a statement from Berlusconi's office said he
had not given a formal interview to Libero but that the paper
had interpreted a chat with the centre-right leader. The
comments remained on Berlusconi's Facebook page.
The media billionaire is 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
He said he was optimistic that his appeal against the tax
fraud conviction would succeed on Tuesday.
"My lawyers have proposed 50 objections to the decision of
the lower court of appeal and the Court of Cassation has
recognised before that I did not participate in company
decisions and had no direct role in managing Mediaset," he said.
A decision by the Cassation Court to fast track the final
ruling has aggravated tension in Prime Minister Enrico Letta's
squabbling left-right coalition government.
Berlusconi's lawyers had not expected a ruling until late in
the year but the court said it had been forced to call a special
summer sitting because part of the case will expire under the
statute of limitations on Aug. 1.
Berlusconi, who leads the People of Freedom party, told
Libero he would not bring down the government, but he believed
Letta's Democratic Party would not want to rule with a party
whose chief is under arrest and banned from public office.
Berlusconi is also appealing against a separate conviction
for abuse of office and paying for sex with a minor, for which a
lower court handed him a seven-year jail sentence in June.
The scandal-ridden mogul, who argues that he is the victim
of persecution by left-wing magistrates, told Libero he had not
slept for a month due to his legal headaches.