Italy's Supreme Court confirms Berlusconi's jail verdict

Rome, August 2 (IANS) The Italian Supreme Court has made definitive a tax fraud conviction for 76-year-old former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, confirming a four-year jail term and ordering a new appeal trial for a related ban on public office.

Five judges Thursday confirmed the guilty verdict imposed last year by a Milan court and upheld in a first appeal, after being locked in consultations on the case for around seven hours, Xinhua reported.

The court also ordered an appeal review of a five-year ban on public office, part of the conviction, which they said could be lowered to one to three years.

Because of a 2006 amnesty law, three of the four years' sentence will not be effective, while Berlusconi being over 70 would likely not serve the remaining year in jail but be given social work or house arrest.

The highest court's decision, which came after 12 years of trial, was the first definitive conviction after dozens of cases against the media tycoon and three-time premier since he entered politics some two decades ago.

Berlusconi was convicted for artificially inflating prices in the purchase of rights to American movies for his broadcaster in order to avoid taxes.

The former premier has denied all charges against him, saying he never had offshore accounts and he did not know about alleged bribes to what he defined a few "unfaithful" managers.

Berlusconi, who is also appealing convictions in separate cases on paying a minor for sex and illegal use of wiretapping, has reassured that his legal troubles will not interfere with stability of the government.

However, many of his allies had threatened to resign in case of conviction, which would add to tensions in the fragile coalition led by Prime Minister Enrico Letta, in which Berlusconi's party shares power.

"The high road is respect of judiciary," Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said in a statement soon after the verdict.

"This time the climate surrounding the Supreme Court's ruling was more respectful and relaxed compared to other proceedings in which Berlusconi was involved, and I think that this was positive for everyone," he said.

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