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Berlusconi's ban from office upheld

Setback to ex-premier's slim hopes of standing in EP elections

19 March, 11:02
Berlusconi's ban from office upheld (ANSA) - Rome, March 19 - Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's slender hopes of standing as a candidate in May's European elections have suffered what looks to be a fatal setback after Italy's supreme court upheld a two-year ban from office over a definitive tax-fraud conviction.

The leader of the opposition centre-right Forza Italia (FI) party was ejected from parliament last year on the basis of a separate six-year ban on office incurred by a 2012 anti-corruption law that kicked in after the Supreme Court upheld the conviction for tax-fraud at his media empire.

Berlusconi is appealing against that ban to the European Court of Human Rights, saying it is retroactive, and therefore unconstitutional, as the anti-corruption law was approved after he was handed the original tax-fraud sentence.

The law was approved, however, before the four-year prison sentence - three years of which have been commuted because of an amnesty - was made definitive by the Supreme Court of Cassation.

The two-year ban from office, on the other hand, is directly linked to the tax-fraud conviction.

Indeed, on the basis of the decision, Berlusconi will not even be able to vote in the European elections, never mind stand as a candidate in them.

Berlusconi was originally banned for five years from office in relation to the fraud case, but the Cassation sent this part of the punishment back to the Milan appeals court for review in August when it upheld the main part of sentence - the prison term.

The Milan appeals court reduced the ban to two years and that decision was ratified by the Cassation late on Tuesday.

Berlusconi, 77, says the tax-fraud sentence, his first definitive conviction in two decades of legal battles since he embarked on a political career, is the result of campaign by left-wing elements in the judiciary who want to sweep him out of Italy's public life.

He has continued to lead FI from outside parliament since his ejection from the Senate.

On Monday European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding ruled out the possibility of the three-time Italian premier running in the European elections. "I will not go into laws at the national level. But European law is very clear on this," Reding said, driving home the point that Berlusconi will not be eligible to stand for the continent's vote.

Berlusconi is likely to spend the remain part of his tax-fraud conviction by doing community service, with a ruling expected April 10. He cannot actually go to jail here because of his age.

Berlusconi is also appealing a seven-year term for paying an underage prostitute for sex and abusing his power to cover up the affair and a one-year sentence for involvement in the publication of an illegally obtained wiretap that hurt a left-wing rival.

The charismatic conservative leader is on trial for allegedly bribing a Senator to switch sides too.