Italy's Silvio Berlusconi Sentenced to One Year in Wiretapping Case

5:16 AM PST 03/07/2013 by Eric J. Lyman
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This is the second time in little more than four months that a court sentenced Berlusconi to prison time, though legal experts say he is unlikely to serve any of it.

ROME -- Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi has been sentenced to a year behind bars for his role in a 2005 wiretap case in connection with a newspaper run by his brother, the latest in a series of embarrassing revelations to emerge as the billionaire seeks to become prime minister for a fourth time.

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This is the second time in little more than four months that the 76-year-old media mogul has been sentenced to jail time, counting a tax evasion conviction case that carried a four-year sentence last October. Before that, in more than 20 legal cases against him over nearly two decades, Berlusconi had always escaped conviction.

Berlusconi insists he is innocent in the cases in which he was convicted, in the latest case arguing through his lawyers that he was so far removed from the day-to-day running of the Milan-based newspaper Il Giornale that he was unaware of the newspaper’s decision to illegally listen in on conversations involving Piero Fassino, one of Berlusconi’s political rivals, and to publish the content.

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Berlusconi’s younger brother, Paolo Berlusconi, was sentenced to 27 months in jail in the same case.

The story was immediate front-page news in most Italian newspapers, though the headline in Il Giornale may have been the most noteworthy, referring to the seven-year legal case as an "Endless Siege" in a block-letter headline.

Legal experts say the elder Berlusconi is very unlikely to serve any time in jail in connection with either of his convictions. But they could be more significant in the damage they do to his already beleaguered reputation, especially at a time when he is seeking to become prime minister for a fourth time.

Berlusconi is currently one of the three main players in a deadlocked political battle, along with former minister Pier Luigi Bersani and funnyman-turned-activist Beppe Grillo. Italians voted in national elections Feb. 24-25, with each of the three blocs earning at least a quarter of the overall vote but with none of them earning enough seats in the Senate to claim a majority. One increasingly likely possibility is that new elections could be called within a few months, and speculation is that continuing legal woes could erode Berlusconi’s support ahead of a future vote.

In addition, Berlusconi was last month named as a defendant in two separate cases of vote buying.

Most importantly, Berlusconi remains embroiled in another legal case, potentially more embarrassing, in which he is accused of paying an underage girl, cabaret dancer Karima el-Mahroug (best known as “Ruby the Heart Stealer”), aged 17 at the time, for sexual services and then abusing his power by lying to police in order to help get her off on shoplifting charges.

Berlusconi's Mediaset is Italy's largest media company, with three national television networks, a major film production and distribution house, a large ad buying company and several print media.

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