An Italian Senate committee has approved a motion to expel Silvio Berlusconi from parliament after his criminal conviction for tax fraud, a move that will now have to be formally approved by the full chamber.
The committee "has decided by a majority to propose to the Senate assembly to debate invalidating the election of senator Berlusconi," the group's head, senator Dario Stefano, said on Friday.
The vote could end the former prime minister's long political career, which spans two decades and several comebacks.
Berlusconi brushed off suggestions he was facing political exile after his conviction and an aborted attempt to topple the government.
"I think this is the result of a well-constructed plan to remove the leader of the centre-right," said the 77-year-old billionaire, adding: "This is a political sentence, based on nothing at all."
Humiliating climb down
The hearing follows a revolt within Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party that forced him into a humiliating climbdown on Wednesday, when he had to back centre-left Prime Minister Enrico Letta in a confidence vote a few days after he had pulled his ministers out of the ruling coalition.
Undaunted, Berlusconi jokingly shrugged off the prospect of political retirement. "I wish! It would mean I could rest a bit," he told reporters on Thursday.
Berlusconi's political future has been under threat since early August when Italy's top court rejected a final appeal and found him guilty of a huge tax fraud scheme at his Mediaset television empire.
It sentenced him to four years in prison, commuted to one year under house arrest or in community service, making him ineligible for parliament for six years under a law passed last year.
The politician, who headed the longest-serving Italian government since World War II, is also appealing his seven-year sentence on a conviction of paying a minor for sex and forcing public officials to cover it up.
That sentence, if confirmed, carries a lifetime political ban.