Berlusconi begins one-year community sentence

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi waves as he leaves the care home Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Silvio Berlusconi has continually protested his innocence

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has completed his first day of a year's community service at a Catholic care home near Milan.

He was sentenced to four years in prison for tax fraud last year, commuted to four hours' work a week with elderly dementia patients.

The care home said the 77-year-old would be treated like any other worker.

As he arrived, Berlusconi was heckled by a trade unionist in a clown hat who shouted: "To prison!"

"We Italian workers have one dream in our hearts: Berlusconi in San Vittore!" he yelled, referring to a prison in Milan.

He was eventually taken away by police.

Spared prison

Mr Berlusconi made no comments to reporters outside the home after completing his first day of service.

The three-time former prime minister wore a navy blue suit with a badge from his centre-right Forza Italia party.

The BBC's David Willey in Rome says that he had been warned not to seek publicity or political advantage from the work.

The billionaire has been embroiled in a string of court cases.

He was convicted last year of buying TV rights at inflated prices via offshore companies to avoid paying taxes in Italy.

But he was spared prison because of his age.

Berlusconi chose community service rather than house arrest to serve out his commuted sentence.

Our correspondent says this will enable him to continue to lead Forza Italia in the European elections, although he was forced to resign his seat in the upper house of parliament.

Nightly curfew

Berlusconi has also had to surrender his passport and his travel within Italy is severely restricted.

He also has to observe a nightly curfew at his palatial home near Milan.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The former Italian leader shook hands with an official as he arrived at the care home near Milan
Image copyright AP
Image caption A protester who shouted that the former prime minister should be in prison was taken away by the authorities
Image copyright AP
Image caption A crowd of journalists from Italy and beyond had gathered to catch a glimpse of the politician

Berlusconi is said to have been studying Alzheimer's disease in preparation for his community service.

Massimo Restelli, head of care services there, told La Repubblica newspaper that Berlusconi's introduction would be "gradual" so that he and the elderly patients could get used to each other.

"It will be small steps so as not to make any mistakes, and then he could do all sorts of things," he said.

"He could help with meals, which are tricky because sometimes you have to 'remind' the patient that they are eating."


Meanwhile, a volunteer at the care home said he was unhappy about the publicity that the former prime minister still managed to attract.

"He is not coming here because he wants to help the people affected by Alzheimer's disease, he is here because he has been forced to come," the volunteer said.

Image copyright AP
Image caption The San Pietro care home says Berlusconi will be treated like any other care worker

Berlusconi has always denied the charges against him, accusing left-wing judges of a witch-hunt.

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 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.