April 15, 2014 11:26 am

Silvio Berlusconi faces community service for tax fraud

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Silvio Berlusconi©AP

Silvio Berlusconi

Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s former prime minister, is to serve his one-year sentence for tax fraud by performing community service in a home for the elderly, according to a ruling by a Milan court.

The decision will raise hopes for Mr Berlusconi’s opposition Forza Italia party that its leader of the past 20 years will be able to steer the party’s campaign in next month’s European parliamentary elections. The court ruling also brings relief for prime minister Matteo Renzi’s coalition government ,which had feared renewed political instability if Mr Berlusconi had been excluded from campaigning.

Mr Berlusconi, 77, was spared serving his sentence in prison because of his age and the nature of his crime. But the Milan court could have rejected his application for community service and imposed house arrest instead, an outcome that would have effectively ruled out his participation in the election campaign.

The Milan court, which released its decision on Tuesday following a hearing with his defence lawyers last Thursday, ruled that Mr Berlusconi should remain in his home region of Lombardy in northern Italy during his one-year term but that he would be allowed to visit Rome three days a week as he had requested.

Mr Berlusconi had previously announced his intention to attend a party conference in Rome this Thursday when Forza Italia intended to make public its list of candidates for the elections. Mr Berlusconi had been separately barred from running for public office after losing his final appeal against his conviction for tax fraud involving his Mediaset company last August. He was expelled from parliament last year.

The Milan court instructed Mr Berlusconi to carry out community service in an old people’s home in Brianza, near his villa in Arcore, rejecting his request to assist an association for the disabled. The billionaire media mogul is to work in the home for at least four consecutive hours a week, leaving him ample time to conduct his party’s affairs.

Mr Berlusconi met Mr Renzi in Rome on Monday night. A government official, who asked not to be named, said they discussed Forza Italia’s continued support for Mr Renzi’s proposed constitutional and electoral reforms before parliament.

Mr Berlusconi and Mr Renzi reached a pact on the proposed reforms in January, but hardliners in Forza Italia had said their agreement would be void if the former prime minister were barred by the courts from political life. Mr Renzi’s coalition government has a slim majority in parliament and support from Forza Italia could be vital if the reforms are to pass, a process expected to take until the end of 2015.

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