Prosecutors Ask For Jail Term For Italy's Berlusconi in Wiretap Case

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It is the second time in three months that the billionaire media tycoon has faced possible time behind bars.

ROME – Prosecutors have called for Italian billionaire media tycoon and three-time prime minister Silvio Berlusconi to be given at least one year behind bars in connection with a controversial case in which he is charged with publishing information about a political rival that was obtained illegally.

Berlusconi’s allies accuse prosecutors of trying to have an impact on the outcome of elections set to take place in February. Berlusconi, who stepped down as prime minister 13 months ago amid personal and legal scandal and fears Italy could fall victim to the European debt crisis, has announced he would stand as a candidate for a fourth term as prime minister in the next elections.

The 76-year-old founder and controlling shareholder of the Mediaset television and cinema giant was also in headlines this week after he announced his engagement to Francesca Pascale, a 27-year-old Neapolitan showgirl. No date for the wedding as been set since Berlusconi is not yet officially divorced from Veronica Lario, his second wife who walked out on him in 2008.

In the latest court case, Il Giornale, the Milan newspaper Berlusconi started that is run by his brother Paolo Berlusconi, in 2005 illegally obtained wiretapped conversations with politician Piero Fassino, one of Berlusconi’s most vocal critics at the time. The conversations were illegally published in the newspaper.

On Friday, Fassino, who is now mayor or Turin and a strong advocate for the Turin Film Festival, said he would sue Berlusconi for €1 million ($1.3 million) for “enormous moral, political, and existential damages.”

Prosecutors in the case have requested one year in jail for Berlusconi, as well as a three-year sentence for Paolo Berlusconi.

It is not the first time Silvio Berlusconi faced possible jail time in recent months: in October, he was sentenced to four years behind bars for tax evasion in connection with film rights with Mediaset, the company that owns the Medusa film production and distribution company, three national television networks in Italy and one in Spain, a big ad buyer, and several print media including Il Giornale. Berlusconi is appealing the ruling, for which the statute of limitations will expire next year.

Berlusconi also remains on trial for abuse of power and for paying Karima el-Mahroug, who was 17 at the time, for sex. El-Mahroug is best known by her stage name, Ruby the Heart Stealer. 

Berlusconi claims his innocence in all of the cases, which he says are politically motivated attacks from opposition figures.