An Italian court has lifted former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's ban from holding office. The 81-year-old could run for prime minister again if talks between M5S and the League collapse and new elections are called.
A Milan court has ordered the immediate "rehabilitation" of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, lifting his ban on holding elected office a year early.
The verdict struck by Milan's Surveillance Tribunal "cancels all the effects" of Berlusconi's 2013 conviction for tax fraud, Milan daily Corriere della Sera, reported on Saturday. The fraud conviction, which stemmed from his media empire dealings, forced the 81-year-old to surrender his Senate seat and barred him from holding office for six years.
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However, the tribunal's ruling means that the three-time former Italian leader could run for prime minister once again, should coalition talks between the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and the far-right League break down and new election be called.
"Finally five years of injustice has come to end," Berlusconi's Forza Italia party said in a statement. "Berlusconi can once again be a candidate."
Mara Carfagna, the current leader of Forza Italia, said: "The 'rehabilitation' by the Milan Surveillance Court puts an end to a judicial persecution and a crucifixion that didn't chip away at the strength of great leadership that, in a profoundly changed political scenario, is today still fundamental and central."
Milan Prosecutor General Roberto Alfonso said prosecutors will have 15 days to decide whether to appeal the tribunal's decision.
Too little, too late?
However, the ban may have been lifted too late for the 81-year-old, as talks on Saturday between the League's Matteo Salvini and M5S' Luigi Di Maio appeared to be finally making headway.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella has given the two leaders until Monday to strike a deal. Otherwise, he said he would appoint a temporary non-political premier to govern Italy.
The right-wing League-Forza Italia coalition won 37 percent of the vote in March's general election, while M5S became the largest single party, taking around 33 percent. Although Berlusconi was sidelined from running, he campaigned actively on behalf of the coalition.
However, coalition talks stalled in the months after the vote, chiefly because of M5S' refusal to negotiate with Berlusconi — who they accuse as embodying Italian political corruption. On Wednesday, Berlusconi appeared to give the green light for Salvini to go ahead and form a government without him.
After dominating Italian politics for more than two decades, the Berlusconi has fought to remain politically relevant in recent years.
The billionaire tycoon was forced to step down as prime minister in 2011 after becoming engulfed in a sex scandal involving his infamous so-called "bunga bunga" parties, all while Italian bond yields had surged to unsustainable levels at the height of the euro zone debt crisis.
After being convicted in 2013, Berlusconi accepted the option to serve his sentence by doing public service. He spent his sentence helping residents at a facility for Alzheimer's patients.
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dm/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters)