ROME: Italy’s former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has asked to serve his 12-month sentence for tax fraud in the form of community service, his lawyers said yesterday, as Italians speculate with delight as to what his punishment could be.
The supreme court on August 1 turned down Berlusconi’s second and final appeal in the tax fraud case, handing him his first ever definitive conviction in a long history of legal woes. A four-year prison sentence handed to the former premier was commuted to one year because of an amnesty in place.
And, because of his age, the 77-year-old does not have to go to prison and instead had the choice of asking for either house arrest or community service, which would afford him greater freedom of movement.
Procedural delays mean that the billionaire magnate’s punishment is not likely to be meted out before next year.
If his request is accepted, a court in Rome, where Berlusconi has officially declared residence, will decide what form the service will take, a source close to his legal defence said on condition of anonymity.
Berlusconi, who has always sworn his innocence in the case, had initially rejected doing community service “like a common criminal”.
But experts say the option he judged humiliating is that which would give the Cavaliere the most freedom since under the rules of house arrest in Italy, a criminal has to make a specific request for every movement outside.
All eyes are now on exactly how Berlusconi will get his hands dirty in the community. The flamboyant tycoon could find himself working in an old people’s home, stacking shelves in a supermarket or cleaning up graffiti. This is seen as unlikely though, in part because as a former head of government Berlusconi travels with a contingent of bodyguards.
Charities around Italy — from a clown-therapy workshop to a dog pound — have jokingly requested Berlusconi come and do his stint with them. “The person requesting community service usually names several organisations so as to avoid finding themselves cleaning toilets in the railway station,” the legal source said.
A charity that helps former drug addicts, the Italian Centre for Solidarity, or CEIS, in the capital is seen as the most likely choice for Berlusconi. Cesare Previti, a friend of Berlusconi’s and former defence minister in one of the three-time prime minister’s governments, did his community service at the centre when he was convicted of corruption.
Some media have also floated the idea of Italy’s ex-leader working for an organisation that campaigns against the death penalty around the world.
That group is linked to the Radical Party, which is calling for an overhaul of Italy’s justice system — a subject very close to Berlusconi’s heart. Community service has the added incentive of rewards for good behaviour. If Berlusconi impresses, his sentence can further be commuted to nine months.AFP