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Italy supreme court upholds Berlusconi jail sentence

By Roberto Landucci and Barry Moody

ROME |          Thu Aug 1, 2013 5:54pm EDT

ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s supreme court on Thursday upheld a jail sentence against Silvio Berlusconi for tax fraud in a devastating blow to the four-times prime minister that could throw the country’s fragile coalition government into crisis.

The former cruise ship crooner is Italy’s most colorful and scandal-prone figure but it was his first definitive conviction in up to 30 court cases on charges ranging from fraud and corruption to having sex with an underage prostitute.

After a three-day hearing, the five judges of the supreme court rejected Berlusconi’s final appeal against a verdict handed down by two lower courts which sentenced the media mogul to four years in jail – commuted to one year under an amnesty.

But the top judges ordered a review by a Milan court of the second part of his sentence, a five-year ban from public office. This will enable him to remain a senator and leader of his center-right People of Freedom Party (PDL) for the moment.

In a sober video message after the verdict, Berlusconi proclaimed his total innocence and launched a bitter attack on magistrates he said had hounded him for 20 years and become an undemocratic rival power to the state.

Looking shaken, he vowed to press ahead in politics with the refoundation of his original political party, Forza Italia, through the mobilization of young people, and a reform of the justice system. But he acknowledged that he had “arrived almost at the end of my working life.”

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