Things Returning to Normal for Italy's Berlusconi, Despite Guilty Verdict

Silvio Berlusconi - Political Plans and Legal Charges
Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

Italian media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi has often been seen as the teflon media mogul - always facing legal and other charges, but never really facing consequences. In Oct. 2012 though, a court sentenced the head of media group Mediaset, whose stock has been dropping amid weak ad trends, to four years in prison in a tax evasion case - marking the first time he is facing time behind bars. And just before Christmas, prosecutors also called for a prison sentence of at least one year for Berlusconi on charges of publishing information about a political rival that was obtained illegally. The three-time prime minister, meanwhile, announced he would run for a fourth term in early 2013 after having left political office in late 2011.

The 76-year-old media tycoon was sentenced to seven years in jail and a lifetime ban from politics in an underage sex and abuse of power trial.

ROME – Buoyed by a massive protest in his support in Rome and undeterred by Monday’s guilty verdict in his high-profile sex and abuse of power trial, billionaire media tycoon and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was back to normal Wednesday, actively weighing in on the government’s agenda and plotting political strategies.

On Monday, three judges -- all female -- sentenced the 76-year-old Berlusconi to seven years in prison with a lifetime ban from politics for paying an underage girl, Karima el-Mahroug (best known by her stage name: Ruby the Heartstealer), for sex and then abusing his power to get her off on a minor theft charge.

The following day, thousands of protestors marched in Berlusconi’s support in Rome under banners reading, “We’re all whores” -- a reference to charges of regular patronage of prostitutes from Berlusconi. Francesca Pascale, Berlusconi’s 27-year-old fiancée, appeared at the protest, calling the justice system “disgraceful and indecent.” Il Foglio, a leading pro-Berlusconi newspaper, accused judges of trying to legislate morality.

Berlusconi’s lawyers have already announced plans to appeal the verdict, and it remains unlikely Berlusconi will ever face a day behind bars: the appeals could drag on until the statute of limitations runs out, and even if they don’t, Berlusconi, who will be 77 in September, would be placed under house arrest if definitively convicted when he is aged 80 or older. The verdict is suspended while the appeals process is underway.

Berlusconi is already preparing to push forward with his party’s legislative agenda, which includes permanently repealing an unpopular property tax and reforming the same judicial system that has now handed down three guilty verdicts against Berlusconi in nine months.

The other verdicts are for tax fraud in connection with content acquisition deals brokered by Berlusconi’s Mediaset, and another in a wiretap case. Another case that does not directly involve Berlusconi but that could have a dramatic impact on his net worth: Fininvest, the Berlusconi family’s holding company, is facing €550 million ($721 million) in fines for an allegedly illegal takeover of Mondadori, the publishing company that is now one of the centerpieces of Berlusconi’s media holdings.

Twitter: @EricJLyman