At 77 he has no intention of slowing down, politics still animates him as fiercely as ever, and his party, little more than a personal election machine of cronies and employees, needs him. And so Silvio Berlusconi’s main preoccupation with the sentence for tax fraud handed down to him on Tuesday by the tribunale di sorveglianza of Milan was that it would not curtail his political campaigning. With jail off the cards because of his age, the possibility of a tight house arrest regime weighed heavily.
But, no need to worry. The court ruled that the billionaire should serve the community “once a week and for a period of no less than four consecutive hours” in a centre for the elderly and disabled. It was “balanced and satisfactory, in relation, to the demands of Berlusconi’s political activity”, his lawyers declared , forgoing for once the chance again to plead his innocence or complain of political victimisation.
He got off lightly. Berlusconi will be based in his elegant Lombardy home, the Villa San Martino in Arcore, about 25 miles from the care home , but will be allowed to spend from Tuesday to Thursday in Rome, no doubt campaigning for his Forza Italia in the Euro- elections.
It can hardly be described as an onerous punishment, and certainly a lot easier on him than the one-year jail term he received on appeal and which he would have had to served but for his age. And his legal troubles are far from over – he is appealing a conviction for paying for sex with an under-age dancer and is accused of bribing an MP to switch sides in 2006 to bring down the then centre-left government. But while a community service order may appear a “softer” sentence that should not detract from – or minimise the righteous public opprobrium he should feel – the fact that the former PM was convicted of a serious offence against the taxpayer and sentenced after battling with prosecutors for most of his two-decade tenure in parliament. That Berlsusconi nevertheless should remain the popular figure and political force that he does is no credit to the Italian political system. Mind you, we’ve been there ourselves.