Italy’s highest court has upheld Silvio Berlusconi’s jail sentence for tax fraud but has referred his five-year ban from public office back to an appeal court in Milan.
At 76, the former prime minister faces house arrest or community service rather than prison. The four-year jail term had already been reduced to one under an amnesty law.
The ruling means Berlusconi is definitively a convicted criminal, although the door remains ajar on his political career.
It was read out by the president of the court, Antonio Esposito, after a three-day hearing and several hours of deliberating by the five judges.
“The court decides to transfer the details of the case concerning the ban from public life for the next court to redetermine the length of the sentence,” he said.
“On the other hand, the court rejects Silvio Berlusconi’s appeal and considers irrevocable the punishment and all other parts of the contested sentence.”
At trial Berlusconi was branded “the author of a whole system of tax fraud” at his Mediaset company by artificially hiking prices paid for TV distribution rights.
The ruling leaves a question mark over the future of Italy’s fragile coalition government, of which Berlusconi’s PDL party is a key partner.