• Berlusconi set to miss EPP meeting, passport not returned

Berlusconi set to miss EPP meeting, passport not returned

Document taken from ex-premier following tax-fraud conviction

(ANSA) - Milan, December 18 - Silvio Berlusconi is set to miss a Brussels meeting of the European People's Party (EPP) on Thursday that he had been invited to after Milan prosecutors rejected a petition to return the ex-premier's passport. The 77-year-old media magnate had his passport taken from him after he the supreme court upheld a tax-fraud conviction against him in August, making it definitive. Berlusconi, who has vowed not to flee Italian justice, can appeal against the prosecutors' decision to a court, but the procedure usually takes several days. The four-year term for fraud at Berlusconi's Mediaset company has been commuted because of an amnesty to one year, which he has requested to serve by doing community service rather than under house arrest. The media magnate, who was stripped of his seat in parliament due to the sentence last month, is too old to actually go to jail under Italian law. Berlusconi and his supporters say the tax-fraud conviction, his first definitive sentence in two decades of legal battles, is part of a campaign of persecution by left-wing elements in the judiciary who allegedly want to sweep him from the country's political arena. "Berlusconi's absence at the EPP meeting should cause reflection for all the other leaders of the party about the state of justice in Italy", said former education minister Mariastella Gelmini, a member of the ex-premier's centre-right Forza Italia party. "Removing the right to speak is an increase on the already unjust punishment inflicted".