Berlusconi loses appeal against tax fraud conviction

Ruling means case may now be heard in court of cessation for definitive judgment

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi: called the judgment an “attempt to eliminate me”. Photograph: Remo Casilli/Reuters

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi: called the judgment an “attempt to eliminate me”. Photograph: Remo Casilli/Reuters

Thu, Jun 20, 2013, 01:00

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has lost another round in his 20-year battle with the judiciary when Italy’s constitutional court rejected an appeal by his defence to have the initial verdicts in the Mediaset tax-evasion scam overturned on a technicality.

In the original Mediaset trial in Milan last October, Mr Berlusconi received a four-year suspended sentence, confirmed in an appeal hearing last month, essentially for tax evasion from 2001-2003.

The state argued that Mr Berlusconi was the mentor behind a scheme whereby, via offshore companies, he used the purchase of TV film rights to both create a $40 million slush fund and to avoid taxation.

At yesterday’s hearing, however, the constitutional court in Rome considered a motion by the Berlusconi defence which argued that the Milan court had ignored the “legitimate impediment” which had prevented Mr Berlusconi attending court on March 1st, 2010. He argued that he could not attend because, as prime minister, he was presiding over a cabinet meeting that day.

The ruling rejected the motion, pointing out that he had already invoked the “legitimate impediment” to cancel three previous hearings and also that his defence team had indicated that that date was acceptable to them. The ruling means that the Mediaset case may now arrive at a definitive judgment in the court of cassation, since the statute of limitations expires in July 2014.

Calling the judgment an “attempt to eliminate me”, Mr Berlusconi last night said it would have no negative fallout for Italy’s current PD-PDL coalition government.