ROME, June 19 Italy's constitutional court on
Wednesday rejected a bid by Silvio Berlusconi to block a tax
fraud conviction from October, clearing the way for a final
verdict this year and deepening the uncertainty facing Prime
Minister Enrico Letta.
Berlusconi's lawyers had challenged a ruling in Milan last
year that sentenced the 76-year-old media tycoon and leader of
the centre-right to four years in prison with a five year ban on
holding public office after it found him complicit in tax fraud
at his Mediaset empire.
They argued that the case was flawed because judges had
refused to allow a delay when Berlusconi claimed he was unable
to attend a hearing in March 2010 because of his
responsibilities as prime minister at the time.
The constitutional court ruled that it was up to the judges
of the original case to rule on whether Berlusconi's claim was
allowable or not. It also noted that he had been given several
opportunities to agree an acceptable court date.
Centre-right allies from Berlusconi's People of Freedom
(PDL) party, which is part of Letta's coalition, have said the
case will have no impact on the government. But the closely
watched ruling could heighten tensions in the already fragile
alliance between traditional rival parties.
A definitive verdict on the tax fraud case will depend on
the result of a final appeal hearing expected later this year.