Italy ex-PM Berlusconi to do community service - court

The sentence allows Berlusconi a "great deal of liberty" reports Alan Johnston

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi must perform a year's community service in a home for the elderly, a Milan court has ruled.

The sentence followed his conviction last year for tax fraud in connection with the purchase of TV rights by his firm, Mediaset, in the 1990s.

Berlusconi's lawyers said they were "satisfied" that the ruling would allow him to remain politically active.

The 77-year-old billionaire has been embroiled in a string of court cases.

He was spared prison in the Mediaset case because the Italian legal system is lenient to the over-70s.

Analysis

Silvio Berlusconi used to run this country. He dominated its politics for nearly 20 years.

But working in that old folks' home will feel very different from his days in the prime ministerial palace.

Mr Berlusconi has fallen a long way. Of course this community service order is deeply embarrassing for him.

But in some ways he will be relieved. He will certainly feel that the tribunal's ruling could have been worse.

He was very keen to avoid house arrest. What mattered to him was that he be left as free as possible to carry on his political activities.

For the Berlusconi camp, community service was much the better of two bad options.

The alternative to the community-service sentence would have been house arrest.

Italian media reports say Berlusconi is likely to work one half-day a week at a home for elderly and disabled people near his estate outside Milan.

The Ansa news agency identified the home as the Fondazione Sacra Famiglia, a church-run centre with 2,000 patients.

Berlusconi will be subject to a curfew and banned from meeting people with criminal convictions - a measure which applies to at least one of his associates, AFP news agency reports.

However, he will be free to travel to Rome from Tuesday to Thursday each week.

He is still leader of Forza Italia, the main conservative opposition bloc, although he is barred from standing in next month's European elections.

Court battles

He has always denied the charges against him, accusing left-wing judges of a witch-hunt aimed at neutralising him as a political leader.

Last year he was convicted of paying for sex with an underage prostitute and abusing his powers, which brought him a lifetime ban from public office. He was expelled from the Italian Senate.

He is appealing against the underage sex conviction, in a trial known as the "Ruby" case.

He is also on trial for allegedly bribing a centre-left senator to switch sides.

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