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Updated: October 26, 2012 22:41 IST

Four-year jail term for Berlusconi for tax evasion

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Silvio Berlusconi
Silvio Berlusconi

Can appeal first conviction in long list of trials

A court in Italy has convicted the former Premier, Silvio Berlusconi, of tax fraud and sentenced him to four years in prison.

The conviction on Friday was the 76-year-old media mogul’s first in a long series of trials, but it did not mean he was going to prison right away. Cases in Italy must pass two levels of appeal before the verdicts are final.

A total of 11 people were on trial. Prosecutors had alleged that the defendants were behind a scheme to purchase the rights to broadcast U.S. movies on Mr. Berlusconi’s private TV networks in his Mediaset empire through a series of offshore companies and had falsely declared the payments to avoid taxes.

Berlusconi’s designated political heir as the head of the centre-right party he leads, Angelino Alfano, blasted the verdict as “incomprehensible” and said he was confident an appeals court would throw out the conviction.

In this and other cases against him, Mr. Berlusconi has described himself as the innocent victim of prosecutors he contends sympathises with the left. Up until now, other criminal investigation probes against him on charges including corruption had ended in acquittal or were thrown out for statute of limitations.

Berlusconi, along with others convicted in the case, must deposit $13 million into a fund as appeals, which could take years, proceed. The trial began in July 2006, but was put on hold by an immunity law that shielded Berlusconi from prosecution while he was Premier until it was watered down by the constitutional court.

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