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ROME – Italy’s Supreme Court opened deliberations in Silvio Berlusconi‘s false accounting and tax fraud trial Tuesday, but closed for the day without making a decision.
The Italian media reported late in the day that a decision would most likely be made Wednesday or Thursday, with the political future of the 76-year-old media mogul and three-time prime minister hanging in the balance.
Last year, Berlusconi was sentenced to four years behind bars and a five-year ban from politics (prosecutors on Tuesday asked for the ban to be reduced to three years) in connection with manipulating the books related to U.S. content acquisitions at Mediaset, the cinema and television giant he founded, in order to avoid paying a tax bill worth at least €300 million ($393 million). His attorneys appealed the verdict, which is now being considered by Italy’s highest court. Whatever decision the court makes cannot be further appealed.
Berlusconi has been the subject of at least two dozen different civil and criminal lawsuits over the last two decades, but he has never been definitively convicted. This is the first time one of his cases made it as far as the Supreme Court.
If the court upholds the original verdict, his advanced age means it is unlikely Berlusconi would ever serve time behind bars (house arrest is more likely). But the ban from politics, which would require a parliamentary vote, is the most severe part of the sentence for the man who has dominated the Italian political landscape since he became prime minister for the first time in 1994.
Any political ban for Berlusconi could destabilize the current Italian government, which is relying on support from Berlusconi’s allies in parliament.
The reduction of the ban from five years to three late Tuesday was a surprise move, possibly an effort to make a verdict more palatable to Berlusconi’s supporters. But the mogul’s lawyers did not give any support to the reduced ban.
Mediaset shares rose dramatically Tuesday morning in anticipation of a possible ruling and then were mostly flat from that point on, as there was no news out of the Rome courtroom. They closed the day up 3.2 percent at €3.35 ($4.39). The shares have almost tripled in value over the last nine months.
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