What next for Berlusconi?

Now that Silvio Berlusconi's tax fraud conviction and four-year prison sentence have been upheld by Italy's highest court, key questions remain about what will happen next to the former Italian premier. Here are some answers.

Q: When will the cell bars slam behind him?

A: Berlusconi is highly unlikely to do a day behind bars, and that's not because he is one of the country's richest men. That's because of Italian law. For example, his four-year prison sentence is automatically reduced to one year because of a law mandating that three years be shaved off sentences to reduce prison overcrowding. Berlusconi has long worked hard to appear younger, including eyelid tightening and hair transplants. But he will turn 77 next month, and most Italian convicts 70 or older are eligible to serve their sentences at home.

First-time offenders with relatively short sentences are eligible to avoid prison by doing social services such as picking up litter in a park or serving meals at homes for the elderly. Berlusconi will be given this option.

The billionaire media mogul has several homes in Italy: a seaside estate on Sardinia's Emerald Coast, a villa near Milan where he used to hold his infamous "bunga bunga suppers" with young women, and a rented palazzo in Rome a short stroll away from the office where he served as premier three times.

Berlusconi will decide whether to do social services or stay at home. If he chooses the latter, judicial officials would take part in the decision about which dwelling that would be.

Q: When does he start serving his sentence?

A: It will take weeks for Berlusconi to be formally notified of his options since judicial offices are on vacation now. And when he is, he'll have a month to make up his mind. If he opts to do social services, it could take months to find an approved organisation that would accept him.

Q: Berlusconi is fond of jetting away for the weekend with officials such as Russian leader Vladimir Putin. How will Italian authorities stop him from leaving the country?

A: Italian convicts serving their sentences at home are required to sign in at a local police station on a regular basis. Electronic leg bracelets aren't being used in Italy. Convicts' passports are seized, but former premiers often have a diplomatic passport. It wasn't immediately clear if seizing Berlusconi's diplomatic passport would require a special action by Italy's Foreign Ministry.

Q: Can Berlusconi remain a politician?

A: The high court ruling upheld a ban on his holding or running for public office. A lower court had meted out a five-year ban, but the high court ruled that the wrong law had been applied in determining the length of the ban and ordered another court to recalculate it, using a law stipulating that bans can last from one to three years.

Q: So when can he be a senator again or run for a fourth term as premier?

A: Berlusconi remains a senator for now. It will take months, maybe more, for a Milan court to decide the length of his ban from public office. Then the Senate must be officially notified. After that, a parliamentary commission will discuss what to do and hold a public hearing which Berlusconi and his lawyer can attend. After that, the full Senate votes. If the Senate votes to defy the ban, the Cassation Court can challenge that, taking the question of which power prevails legislative or judicial to Italy's constitutional court.

- AP

- Herald on Sunday

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