Italy’s highest court, the Court of Cassation, has begun considering Silvio Berlusconi’s last appeal against a four-year jail sentence and five-year ban from public office for tax fraud.
If the court delivers the first definitive conviction in dozens of cases against the former prime minister, it would mark the end of his 20-year dominance of Italian politics.
It could also threaten the survival of Italy’s fragile coalition. Politicians from both the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and Berlusconi’s centre-right People of Freedom (PDL) party may refuse to continue in government.
The ex-prime minister’s appeal follows his conviction for artificially inflating prices of TV distribution rights bought by his Mediaset company, to avoid taxes.
Berlusconi contests the verdict and he and his supporters believe the charges are politically motivated.
If he loses, the 76-year-old is unlikely to go to prison because of his age, but he would lose his seat in parliament.