A Milan court has ruled that former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi should be barred from holding public office for two years following a conviction for tax fraud.

Berlusconi can appeal Saturday's ruling and the ban would in any case have to be approved by the Senate, where Berlusconi has a parliamentary seat.

The vote in the Senate is expected to take place next month.

The Senate is dominated by Berlusconi opponents from both the left and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and is expected to vote to strip him of his seat.

The decision over Berlusconi's future has been one of the most sensitive issues facing parliament.

Italy's Supreme Court on August 1 definitively upheld a tax fraud conviction against the billionaire, rejecting his
final appeal against an earlier four-year jail sentence.

The four-year sentence was commuted to one year, and, if the Senate expels him, Berlusconi will spend the year either under house arrest or in community service.

Centre-left Prime Minister Enrico Letta's awkward coalition with Berlusconi's People of Freedom party (PDL) came close to falling when Berlusconi pulled his ministers out of the government last month.

The stated reason for the break was a disagreement over tax policy but the weeks of tension over his impending expulsion helped poison the climate in the broad left-right coalition.

The August Supreme Court ruling involved inflated invoices at his Mediaset broadcasting empire and was the first definitive sentence he had received after dozens of previous trials on charges ranging from tax to sex offences.

The 76-year-old has protested his innocence, accusing magistrates of persecuting him since his entry into politics 20 years ago.

Source: Agencies