The Norman Transcript

August 3, 2013

Italy’s celebrity convict probably won’t be jailed

By Frances D’emilio
The Associated Press

ROME — Now that Silvio Berlusconi’s tax fraud conviction and four-year prison sentence have been upheld by Italy’s highest court, key questions remain about what will happen next to the former Italian premier. Here are some answers.

Q: When will the cell bars slam behind him?

A: Berlusconi is highly unlikely to do a day behind bars, and that’s not because he is one of the country’s richest men. That’s because of Italian law. For example, his four-year prison sentence is automatically reduced to one year because of a law mandating that three years be shaved off sentences to reduce prison overcrowding. Berlusconi has long worked hard to appear younger, including eyelid tightening and hair transplants. But he will turn 77 in September, and most Italian convicts 70 or older are eligible to serve their sentences at home.

First-time offenders with relatively short sentences are eligible to avoid prison by doing social services such as picking up litter in a park or serving meals at homes for the elderly. Berlusconi will be given this option.

The billionaire media mogul has several homes in Italy: a sprawling seaside estate on Sardinia’s Emerald Coast, a villa near Milan where he used to hold his infamous “bunga bunga suppers” with young women, and a rented palazzo in Rome a short stroll from the office where he served as premier.

Berlusconi will decide whether to do social services or stay at home. If he makes the latter choice, judicial officials would help decide which dwelling to confine him in.

Q: When does he start serving his sentence?

A: It will take weeks for Berlusconi to be formally notified of his options since judicial offices are on vacation now. And when he is, he’ll have a month to make up his mind. That means he is unlikely to start serving his sentence until mid-October at the earliest. If he opts to do social services, it could take months to find an approved organization that would accept him.

Q. Berlusconi is fond of jetting away for the weekend with officials such as Vladimir Putin. How will authorities stop him from leaving the country?

A. Italian convicts serving their sentences at home are required to sign in at a local police station on a regular basis. Electronic leg bracelets aren’t being used in Italy. Convicts’ passports are seized. The former premier also has a diplomatic passport, but foreign ministry officials said it expired a few months ago.

Q. Can Berlusconi remain a politician?

A. Thursday’s high court ruling upheld a ban on his holding or running for public office. A lower court had meted out a five-year ban, but the high court ruled that the wrong law had been applied. in determining the length of the ban and ordered another court to recalculate it, using a law stipulating that bans can last from one to three years.

Q. So when can he be a senator again or run for a fourth term as premier?

A. Berlusconi remains a senator for now. It will take months, maybe more, for a Milan court to decide the length of his ban from public office. Then the Senate must be officially notified. After that, a parliamentary commission will discuss what to do and hold a public hearing which Berlusconi and his lawyer can attend. After that, the full Senate votes. If the Senate votes to defy the ban, the Cassation Court can challenge that, taking the question of which power prevails — legislative or judicial — to Italy’s constitutional court.

Whatever happens, a recent law bars anyone with a prison term of more than two years from ever running in an election for a seat in Parliament. So if Berlusconi loses his seat, he won’t ever be elected for another one.

Q. How about a special pardon?

A. On Friday, Berlusconi met with some leaders of his party, and they said they intend to press President Giorgio Napolitano — who as head of state has the power to issue pardons — to do so for Berlusconi. But they have not formally made such a request yet.