Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been sentenced to a year in prison for leaking transcripts of a police wiretap. The sentence comes as Italy faces a political stalemate after inconclusive elections.
A Milan court sentenced Berlusconi on Thursday to a year in prison for illegally publishing the transcripts of a police wiretap in a newspaper that he owns, in a bid to damage the reputation of one of his political rivals.
Berlusconi will likely remain free during an appeal, which is expected to be filed soon. Under Italian law, people over the age of 75 sentenced to less than two years in prison do not actually have to serve time in jail. Berlusconi is 76 years old.
The former prime minister’s lawyer, Piero Longo, claimed that the court in Milan was biased. Berlusconi has repeatedly accused the Milan court of singling him out for political reasons.
"I'm not surprised, given that it's Milan and it has to do with Berlusconi," Longo told reporters after the verdict. "But I am concerned and shocked because I'm quite convinced that the charges against Berlusconi were weak and contradictory and even completely lacking."
'So we have a bank?'
In 2005, the Il Giornale newspaper published extracts from a wiretap in which former center-left leader Piero Fassino discussed a takeover bid by insurance group Unipol of Antonveneta bank. Fassino was quoted as saying “so we have a bank?” The recording sparked accusations that Fassino sought to exercise undue influence over the deal.
Il Giornale is owned by Silvio Berlusconi’s brother, Paolo Berlusconi. Paolo was sentenced to a two-year, three-month jail term over the incident. Fassino was awarded 80,000 euros ($104,000) in damages, which has to be paid by the Berlusconis.
A verdict is expected on March 18 in Berlusconi's trial on charges of paying for sex with a juvenile prostitute. And a separate appeals trial over a tax fraud conviction is expected to conclude on March 23.
The former prime minister's People of Freedom party came in second in Italy's inconclusive parliamentary elections. But a return to power is unlikely, as the center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani - the election victor - has ruled out forming a grand coalition with Berlusconi's center-right party.
slk/hc (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)