Italian court upholds public office ban for Silvio Berlusconi

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A file photo taken on 25 May 25 2012 shows former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi reacting during a press conference at the senate in Rome.Image source, AFP
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Silvio Berlusconi says the court cases against him are politically motivated

Italy's highest appeals court has upheld a two-year ban from public office imposed on former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi after he was found guilty of tax fraud.

The ban means Berlusconi will be unable to stand in elections for the European Parliament in May.

After last year's verdict, he was also stripped of his senate seat and sentenced to four years' imprisonment.

The jail term is likely to be commuted to one year's community service.

Berlusconi's lawyer, Niccolo Ghedini, said he was "extremely disappointed" by Tuesday's ruling of Italy's Court of Cassation.

Mariastella Gelmini, a senior member of Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, said the ruling was "abnormal and unjust".

"There is an ideological prejudice against Berlusconi that annuls the rights of the defence," said the former education minister.

Berlusconi, 77, has faced a string of court cases but the sentence for tax fraud, upheld last August, was the first definitive conviction.

He was convicted over deals his firm Mediaset made to purchase TV rights to US films.

The subsequent two-year ban on holding public office was imposed by a Milan court in October.

Last June Berlusconi was also convicted of paying for sex with an underage prostitute and abusing his power.

He was sentenced to seven years in jail and banned from ever holding public office. However, he is free pending the outcome of the appeals process.

In the latest case against him, Berlusconi went on trial in Naples last month for allegedly bribing a senator to join his party in 2006.

He denies any wrongdoing.

Correspondents say that, despite his court convictions and continuing legal battles, Berlusconi still remains an influential force in Italian politics.