Silvio Berlusconi's Tax Fraud Sentence Reduced to Community Service

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Silvio Berlusconi

UPDATED: The media tycoon's original four-year jail term had been reduced to a year of service because of his advanced age.

ROME -- Judges in a Milan court accepted Silvio Berlusconi's request to perform just four hours a week of community service for a year, a punishment handed down in the wake of last year's conviction for tax fraud and false accounting.

The charges represent the first time the 77-year-old billionaire media tycoon will be punished for criminal wrongdoing in more than two decades of legal problems. Italy's Supreme Court upheld the charges last year -- Berlusconi's first-ever definitive conviction -- but because of his advanced age, the four-year jail term was reduced to a year of house arrest or community service.

Critics have criticized the court for being unusually lenient on Berlusconi, while his allies said he should have been granted a pardon because of his years of public service.

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The conviction stems from the use of accounting tricks to avoid millions in taxes in a series of film content deals between U.S. studios and Berlusconi's Mediaset television and cinema empire. Berlusconi has denied wrongdoing.

The decision in Milan came unexpectedly quickly on Tuesday, as judges accepted most of the requests made last week.

Berlusconi will work for half a day each week in a home for the elderly in Milan. He is mostly restricted to stay in Lombardy, the region that includes Milan, though he is allowed to travel to Rome between Tuesday and Thursdays, as long as he is back home in Milan by Thursday night.

Moving between Milan and Rome will give Berlusconi the freedom to continue to act as the head of Forza Italia, the center-right political party he founded. But he cannot serve in office because of a ban on him doing so, which was put into place earlier this year.

Berlusconi is expected to start performing the community service later this month.

Twitter: @EricJLyman