Court Deliberating Punishment for Media Mogul Silvio Berlusconi

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Silvio Berlusconi

Berlusconi says he wants to help the disabled, while insisting he should be able to pursue a political agenda.

ROME – An Italian court began its deliberations on Thursday regarding Italian media kingpin Silvio Berlusconi's punishment for tax fraud and false accounting. The billionaire formally requested to serve his time helping the disabled -- but only on his terms.

Berlusconi, 77, was found guilty last year of cooking the books to save millions in taxes for his company Mediaset in a series of content acquisition deals with U.S. studios. He was sentenced to four years in prison, but because of his age, the sentence was reduced to a year of house arrest or community service.

The three-time prime minister has asked to serve his community service by helping the disabled. But he says he also wants freedom to do as he pleases when off the job, including the right to campaign for his party in elections for European Parliament next month.

Berlusconi was stripped of his seat in Italy’s Senate last year and has been banned from politics in Italy, though some legal experts say that has less bearing on European elections.

The court has entered deliberations and will decide Berlusconi’s fate next Tuesday. Judges have great flexibility on rulings in these cases: Berlusconi’s offer could be accepted, with or without the conditions he requested; the tribunal could choose a different kind of community service or the option for house arrest; or they could even decide he should serve the time behind bars.

"The time they need is for technical reasons," Giuseppe De Arcangelis, a commentator with Rome’s La Sapienza University, said in an interview. "They must carefully consider all the options."

Last week, Berlusconi requested a pardon from Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, who demurred.

The developments come as another investigation was recently opened looking into the activities of Berlusconi's lawyers, who are accused to paying off witnesses in a trial where Berlusconi was accused of abuse of power and paying an underage girl -- a then-17-year-old erotic dancer, Karima el-Mahroug -- for sex. Berlusconi was found guilty in that trial, though the verdict is under appeal. Berlusconi, one of the richest people in Europe, is also on trial on charges of bribing a public figure and conducting illegal wiretaps. He has denied wrongdoing across the board.

Despite his legal woes and popularity levels near historic lows, Berlusconi, who last stepped down as prime minister in 2011 amid fears Italy would fall victim to the European debt crisis, has vowed to mount a political comeback, starting with the upcoming elections for European Parliament.

Twitter: @EricJLyman