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March 08, 2013 09:07:43 AM
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An Italian court on Thursday sentenced former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi to a year in prison over the publication of leaked transcripts from a police wiretap in a newspaper in his media empire.

The billionaire media tycoon, who faces two more verdicts later this month on charges of tax fraud and having sex with an underage prostitute, can appeal the conviction which would suspend the sentence under Italian law.

"It is impossible to tolerate this kind of judicial persecution that has lasted for 20 years," Berlusconi said in a statement.

Berlusconi said the decision was unfair since he himself had been the victim of "thousands" of leaks in newspapers and television broadcasts and had filed lawsuits that had never come trial.

Italian sentencing guidelines indicate that people aged over 75 and with sentences of less than two years do not have to actually go to prison.

Berlusconi is 76.

The case will anyway expire by August at the latest under a statute of limitations passed by Berlusconi when he was in government, meaning that both the sentence and appeal would be thrown out.

"I am disappointed and concerned because I am convinced that the proof was insufficient, contradictory or missing," Berlusconi's lawyer Piero Longo told reporters after the hearing.

"I was not expecting a conviction," he said.

Fabrizio Cicchitto, a leading member of Berlusconi's People of Freedom party, said: "The plan to eliminate Silvio Berlusconi through the justice system is now so obvious that it is dangerous for democracy."

"We will make our voices heard loud and strong on democracy and the need for justice that is fair and worthy of a civilized country," he said.

The party is preparing a demonstration later this month against a justice system that Berlusconi frequently portrays as left-wing and biased.

Berlusconi stood accused of violating secrecy laws after his Il Giornale daily published transcripts in 2005 that were widely seen as an attempt to discredit the then leader of the centre-left Democratic Party ahead of elections in 2006.

The leaks were about the attempted takeover of Italy's BNL bank by insurance giant Unipol.

Prosecutors said the publication of the transcript was "not just a media leak" since Fassino was "the head of the opposition" before the elections, which the centre-left ended up winning.

Berlusconi's brother Paolo, editor of Il Giornale, was sentenced to two years and three months.

Silvio Berlusconi also faces a verdict possibly as early as March 18 in a trial in which he is accused of having sex with a then 17-year-old prostitute when he was prime minister and then abusing the power of his office by putting pressure on police to release her from custody.

A verdict in his appeal trial against a tax fraud conviction from last year in which he was also sentenced to a year in prison is also expected around March 23.

Italian court dates are often changed at the last minute and Berlusconi's lawyers have tried to slow down all the trials, invoking "legitimate impediment" because of his duties as an MP.


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