Italy's Berlusconi Skips Court-Mandated Community Service, Earning Ire of Judges

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Silvio Berlusconi

The 77-year-old media tycoon could face action from the courts, but he instead revealed an election platform that includes an appeal to free "dog prisoners."

ROME – Italian magistrates on Tuesday said they are considering changing Silvio Berlusconi’s one-year sentence of community service to house arrest after he failed to show up for the first day of volunteer work and instead blasted the courts for what he said was a “ridiculous” sentence.

Berlusconi, a billionaire media tycoon and three-time prime minster, also announced his party’s platform for next month’s European elections, which will include an unlikely appeal to low-income pet owners.

The 77-year-old Berlusconi was sentenced to four years in jail in connection with a tax fraud and false accounting case involving cooked books at his Mediaset empire. But because of his age, the sentence was reduced to one year of either community service or house arrest. Berlusconi’s lawyers pleaded for community service and the courts consented earlier this month.

STORY: Silvio Berlusconi's Tax Fraud Sentence Reduced to Community Service

The sentence was light: only half a day of volunteer work per week at an old-age home in Milan, where some of the residents were younger than Berlusconi himself.

Berlusconi was supposed to start his first day of community service Monday. But he skipped it, without stating why, and then he appeared on Italian television -- on La7, not one of the three national networks he owns -- to say the sentence against him amounted to a coup d’etat, arguing it should be reversed. He also called his conviction -- his first after more than 20 years of legal woes -- “ridiculous” and motivated by politics.

The judges who consented to his request for community service over house arrest were not amused. They indicated Tuesday they were considering changing the sentence to house arrest.

STORY: Court Deliberating Punishment for Media Mogul Silvio Berlusconi

Berlusconi did not appear concerned Tuesday, instead focusing his attention on the upcoming European elections. Part of his election strategy, apparently, involves an appeal to elderly and low-income pet lovers: He said that his party would use its influence in the European parliament to lower taxes on pet food and to find homes for the estimated 150,000 dogs kept in government-funded kennels. He called them “dog prisoners” and said finding homes for the animals would save the state around $365 million (€260 million) a year, though he did not say how he would find so many willing dog owners.

Berlusconi famously gave his 28-year-old girlfriend Francesca Pasquale a pet poodle, and the two are often seen doting on the dog in public.

Berlusconi, who first entered politics in 1994, is one of the richest people in Italy. His media holdings include three national television networks, a major film production and distribution house, several print media outlets, and the AC Milan professional soccer team.

The tax fraud and false accounting conviction is not his only legal problem: He is also on trial or appealing convictions for bribing a public official, illegal wire taps, abuse of power, and paying an under-age erotic dancer for sex. He denies wrongdoing in all the cases.

Twitter: @EricJLyman