Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was convicted of tax fraud and sentenced to four years in prison Friday. Meanwhile, he awaits trial on charges that he paid for sex with an underage prostitute. His sentence was reduced to one year due to a law intended to reduce prison overcrowding.
Berlusconi claimed the charges were politically motivated. The conviction is also a setback for his ruling center-right party at a time when its power is waning. A lawyer for Berlusconi said the ruling would be appealed. The New York Times reported that it is unlikely he will actually serve any jail time.
The case at the heart of Friday’s ruling centered on a scheme in which Mr. Berlusconi and several other defendants used a series of offshore companies to buy the rights to broadcast American movies on Mr. Berlusconi’s private television networks and falsely declared the amount of the payments to avoid taxes. Prosecutors said the defendants then inflated the price for the television rights of some 3,000 films as they relicensed them internally to Mr. Berlusconi’s networks, pocketing the difference, which amounted to around 250 million euros, about $320 million. Mr. Berlusconi, who has major holdings in real estate, insurance, advertising and publishing, has been involved in dozens of legal cases over the years. In 1997 and 1998, when Mr. Berlusconi was the opposition leader, he was convicted by lower courts on charges of tax fraud and corruption.