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Berlusconi loses appeal in tax fraud case

An Italian court on Wednesday upheld a tax fraud conviction for former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, confirming his sentence of one year in prison and a five-year ban from public office.

Berlusconi loses appeal in tax fraud case
File photo of Silvio Berlusconi giving a press conference on April 23nd, 2013. Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

"The court confirms the sentence against Silvio Berlusconi," a judge in Milan said in a live audio feed broadcast by news channel Sky TG 24.

Berlusconi is now expected to appeal the ruling in Italy's highest court, which would suspend the punishment pending a final ruling in the case which revolves around his Mediaset business empire.

"We knew it would go like this," Berlusconi's defence lawyer Niccolo Ghedini told reporters.

"I do not think there is a connection between this verdict and political stability," said Ghedini, who is also a lawmaker from Berlusconi's People of Freedom party.

Berlusconi's party is now an influential member of a grand coalition government led by leftist moderate Enrico Letta and could bring down the cabinet if it wanted to.

The appeal verdict was the latest twist in a 20-year legal saga that began when the flamboyant billionaire first burst onto the political scene.

The case revolves around the prices of film distribution rights bought by Mediaset that were artificially inflated in order to avoid taxes.

The media tycoon is also a defendant in a trial for having sex with an underage 17-year-old prostitute while he was still prime minister, and then abusing the powers of his office by putting pressure on police to release her from custody.

A verdict in that case is expected imminently.

The 76-year-old Berlusconi was also convicted in March over the publication of police wiretap transcripts in a newspaper he owns, which were leaked in order to discredit a political rival.

Berlusconi has been convicted before but all his convictions have either been overturned on appeal or have expired under the statute of limitations.

Supporters and Berlusconi himself say he is unfairly victimized by left-wing judges who are out to get him, but critics say he has used his influence and wealth to dodge the law.

Even if his convictions are upheld throughout the appeals process, Berlusconi is unlikely ever to see the inside of a prison cell as sentencing guidelines for over 70s in Italy are lenient.

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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

An Italian centre-left election pact broke down on Sunday just days after it was formed, leaving the path to power clear for the hard-right coalition.

Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

The alliance between Italian centre-left parties was left in disarray on Sunday night, potentially meaning a landslide victory for the hard-right coalition at early general elections in September.

The leader of the centrist Azione party withdrew support for the left-wing coalition led by the Democratic Party (PD) just five days after the two joined forces, saying it could not work with left-wingers brought in to boost the alliance.

Carlo Calenda, leader of Azione, withdrew his support on Sunday after PD made another pact with smaller left-wing parties including the radical Sinistra Italiana, and new green party Europa Verde.

“You cannot explain (to voters) that to defend the constitution you make a pact with people you know you will never govern with,” Calenda told newspaper Corriere della Sera.

The news was greeted with jubilation by hard-right League leader Matteo Salvini, who tweeted: “On the left chaos and everyone against everyone!”

Giorgia Meloni, leader of the neofascist Brothers of Italy party (FdI) mocked a “new twist in the soap opera of the centre-left.”

READ ALSO: Italy to choose ‘Europe or nationalism’ at election, says PD leader

Analyists predict the centre-left split could hand the right-wing bloc a landslide victory at the election on September 25th, with Meloni tipped to become Italy’s first female prime minister.

Italy’s political system favours coalitions, and while Meloni has a strong alliance with Salvini’s League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, Letta is struggling to bring together the disparate  progressive parties.

The PD is neck and neck with Brothers of Italy in the latest opinion polls, but even in partnership with Azione, the group most recently polled at 33.6 percent, compared with 46.4 percent for the right.

Political commentators said the only hope PD has now of posing a credible threat to the right-wing alliance would be by partnering with the Five Star Movement.

READ ALSO: Why has Italy’s government collapsed in the middle of summer?

However, Letta has repeatedly said this is out of the question, as he blames M5S for triggering the political crisis that brought down Mario Draghi’s broad coalition government.

“Either PD eats its hat and seeks alliance with M5S to defeat the right-wing coalition, or it’s hard to see how the right can possibly lose the forthcoming election,” Dr Daniele Albertazzi, a politics professor at the University of Surrey in England, tweeted on Sunday.

Early elections were called after Draghi resigned in late July. His government currently remains in place in a caretaker role.

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