The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) began hearing appeal arguments on Wednesday that an Italian court had violated former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's rights by banning him from holding public office over tax fraudusing retroactively applied legislation.
In August 2013, the media tycoon received a prison term — largely commuted into community service — and was barred from public office until 2019 for illegally lowering the tax bill of his media company Mediaset.
Ahead of Italian elections, which are due by May next year, the 81-year-old has made a comeback with his Forza Italia party as a sideline "coach."
He managed to wield political weight in the center-right party despite remaining expelled from Rome's Senate, or upper house of parliament, andundergoing heart surgery last year.
The court's 17 judges in Strasbourg are expected to take six months to deliberate over the verdict in the "Berlusconi versus Italy," leaving Berlusconi little time to run next year.
Berlusconi vows return to politics
In an interview with the newspaper La Republica on Wednesday, Berlusconi said that he hopes the court will quickly take up his appeal, vowing: "I'll bring the center-right to power."
Recent surveys of voters in Italy indicate a hung parliament.
The populist 5-Star Movement is currently leading opinion polls with around 28 percent, following by the ruling center-left Democratic Party with around 25 percent.
Berlusconi's Forza Italia and the anti-immigrant Northern League are both polling around 14 percent, while the right-wing Brothers of Italy on about 5 percent.
Absent from Wednesday's Strasbourg hearing, Berlusconi also told La Republica that he expected German Chancellor Angela Merkel to survive Germany's coalition-formation wrangle.
Talk of her "surrender" was premature, Berlusconi said, adding: "Right now I don't see other possible points of stability in German politics."
ipj/rs (dpa, Reuters, AP)