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Berlusconi battles Italian Senate expulsion on two fronts

An Italian Senate committee has begun debating whether former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi should be expelled from parliament after his tax fraud conviction. Berlusconi's allies say a ban could topple the government.

Silvio Berlusconi's latest battles to salvage his political career began simultaneously on Monday. An Italian committee of 23 senators began discussing a possible ban on Berlusconi in parliament as a result of his tax fraud conviction that was definitively upheld this year.

Meanwhile, in Strasbourg, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) confirmed on Monday that Berlusconi had filed a complaint, arguing he could not be legally barred from parliament.

Berlusconi's People of Freedom - or PdL - party, a key component in Italy's broad coalition government, has previously threatened to pull out of the government if its founder is excluded from the Senate.

A veteran in the dock

Italy implemented a law in 2012 ruling that any parliamentarian sentenced to two years or more in jail would be excluded from politics. Berlusconi's supporters argue that it cannot apply retroactively for crimes committed before the law's inauguration. Berlusconi's ECHR complaint also claims the parliamentary ban cannot apply to him on these grounds. Those advocating a Berlusconi ban say the law applies to all convictions that followed its inception.

Berlusconi was convicted last October in a case connected to fraudulent offshore banking by his family media empire, Mediaset; two appeals courts subsequently upheld the verdict, most recently the Italy's top Court of Cassation on August 1. The billionaire's four-year prison service was reduced to one year under an amnesty. Owing to his age, Berlusconi qualifies to serve that time either under house arrest or in community service; a court is set to decide which next month.

Subject to a string of trials and allegations over the years, Berlusconi also awaits an appeal court date when he will challenge a conviction and seven-year sentence on charges of sleeping with an underage prostitute.

Lengthy deliberations expected

Barring a rapid breakdown among the 23 Senate panelists, talks on Berlusconi's future in parliament are expected to take some time.

"Weeks not days," centrist politician and committee member Benedetto della Vedova told the La Repubblica daily when asked how long the task might last.

Prime Minister Enrico Letta of the Democratic Party said on Sunday he did not believe Berlusconi's PdL would leave the coalition government. The unusually broad alliance was only brokered late in April, after two months of limbo without an established coalition following inconclusive election results.

Berlusconi has held a seat in Italy's parliament since 1994.

msh/ph (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)