Berlusconi turns up early for community service at old people’s home

Media tycoon ordered by judges to do at least four hours of community service per week

Milan judges have ordered Mr Berlusconi to do at least four hours per week of community service, in the wake of a four year (reduced to one) sentence last year for tax fraud on the part of his Mediaset TV company. Photograph: Stefano Rellandini/Reuters

Milan judges have ordered Mr Berlusconi to do at least four hours per week of community service, in the wake of a four year (reduced to one) sentence last year for tax fraud on the part of his Mediaset TV company. Photograph: Stefano Rellandini/Reuters

 

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi arrived 15 minutes early this morning for his community service appointment at the Sacra Famiglia old people’s home in Cesano Boscone, just up the road from his principal residence of Villa San Martino in Arcore, north of Milan.

Milan judges have ordered Mr Berlusconi to do at least four hours per week of community service, in the wake of a four year (reduced to one) sentence last year for tax fraud on the part of his Mediaset TV company. Given his age, 77, it was always most unlikely that he would be ordered to serve his punishment in prison. Rather, judges offered the media tycoon the choice between community service and house arrest.

Given that he is currently much involved in Forza Italia’s European election campaign, Mr Berlusconi chose community service since house arrest would have greatly curtailed his movements on the campaign trail. Accordingly, judges assigned him to the Sacra Famiglia home, a hospice for the over-65s, many of whom suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease.

Earlier this week, Mr. Berlusconi had said that he did not want a heavy media presence when he arrived at the home, pointing out that he was “looking forward to spending some time with people who have been afflicted with bad luck and sickness”. Inevitably, the world’s media ignored that request with radio, TV and print journalists from all around the world on hand for his first session.

For once, too, Mr Berlusconi had nothing to say to the massed ranks of the media, either upon arrival or as he left some four and a half hours later. Staff at the home told reporters, however, that on this first day, Mr Berlusconi had been asked to observe the working day rather than fulfill any particular task. It remains unclear what the exact nature of those tasks might be.

Mr Berlusconi’s assignment has already prompted polemics with the President of the Italian Alzheimer Foundation, Gabriella Porro, expressing her reservations about his role at the home. She claimed that for those in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, a new person appearing in their life for four hours per week might create confusion and distress. As for those with advanced Alzheimer’s, there would be little that someone like Mr. Berlusconi could do other than sit at their bedside and look at them.

Another relatively limited polemical note was struck by one of the workers at the home, Pippo Fiorito, who staged a one man protest prior to Mr Berlusconi’s arrival saying that the media tycoon should be sent to Milan’s San Vittore prison rather than to an old people’s home. Mr Fiorito’s protest was short-lived since police and staff quickly removed him from the grounds of the home.

Senior Forza Italia figures inevitably used the occasion to attack the judiciary with deputy Raffaele Fitto saying:

“The idea that Berlusconi should be ordered to do community service frankly represents a serious wound to democracy”.

Mr Berlusconi’s day of community service rounds off another eventful week for the media tycoon, following the arrest yesterday of his long time political ally and Forza Italia party organisor, ex-Minister Claudio Scajola. The former Minister of the Interior was arrested on charges that he had helped Amedeo Matacena, a former Forza Italia deputy, escape from Italy after he had been sentenced last June to five years in prison for Mafia collusion.

Mr Scajola is the second Berlusconi aide to encounter Mafia-related problems in the last month. In early April, former Forza Italia Euro MP, Marcello Dell’Utri, absconded to Beirut, just days before a Palermo court was due to hear his Appeal against a seven year sentence for Mafia collusion. Mr Dell’Utri is still in Beirut, awaiting the outcome of potentially complex extradition proceedings back to Italy, whilst his case is today again in front of the Appeals Court.