Berlusconi claims 'harassment' after Italian court upholds prison sentence



Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi reacts during the presentation of Antonio Razzi's book "Le mie mani pulite" (My clean hands) on February 1, 2012 at the Italian parliament in Rome. The Clean Hands campaign was a judicial investigation into political corruption in the 1990s. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO



Silvio Berlusconi has denounced Italy's justice system after a top court rejected the media mogul's appeal and upheld his prison sentence for tax fraud.

"We are living in a country... that doesn't know how to be just," the former prime minister claimed in an angry video statement released in response to Thursday's ruling.

The court's five judges heard three days of testimony in Berlusconi's appeal, but decided to uphold the verdict handed down by two lower courts in Milan.

Those rulings carried a four-year prison sentence, which was commuted to one year under an amnesty. Most likely the 76-year-old will be allowed to serve his sentence under house arrest due to his age. 

Berlusconi also faced a five-year ban from public office — a punishment that could effectively end his domination of Italian politics.

The Court of Cassation decided to put that ban under judicial review.

The New York Times called the ruling a "compromise" for the politician, who remains a senator and head of the center-right People of Freedom Party (PDL).

The court's ruling hands Berlusconi his first definitive conviction in a long range of charges from sex with an underage prostitute to tax fraud.

In a nine-minute video address, he claimed he had been subjected to "genuine judicial harassment that is unmatched in the civilised world," according to the BBC's translation.

"In exchange for the commitments I have made over almost 20 years in favor of my country and coming almost at the end of my public life, I have been rewarded with accusations and a verdict that is founded on absolutely nothing, that takes away my personal freedom and my political rights," he complained, calling for judicial reform.

If Berlusconi were banned from politics, it could have a major destabilizing effect on the already-fragile Italian political system.

The three-month-old government headed by Prime Minister Enrico Letta represents a tenuous balance of power between Letta's center-left Democratic Party and the PDL, which Berlusconi runs with a tight grip.

He must now wait for another court to determine the length of his ban from public office.

Beppe Grillo, the comedian turned political activist who heads the anti-establishment Five Star party, compared Berlusconi's sentencing to the fall of the Berlin Wall