An Italian Senate committee is debating a motion to expel former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi from parliament following his tax fraud conviction and four-year prison sentence.

Senators are tipped to approve the motion in a vote expected later on Friday, a move that could end the ex-PM's long and colourful political career.

Berlusconi, who has dominated Italian politics for two decades, brushed off suggestions that his parliamentary career might soon be over after the 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.

"This is a political sentence, based on nothing at all."

Berlusconi is not expected to attend Friday's hearing.

If the committee, which is dominated by Berlusconi's adversaries, votes to strip him of his Senate seat, the judgment will have to be confirmed by a full vote of the upper house, around two weeks later.

Humiliating climb down

The hearing follows a revolt within Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party that forced him into a humiliating climb down 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 massive 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 under a law passed last year.

The law bans anyone sentenced to more than two years in prison from holding or running for public office for six years.

Berlusconi supporters insist this law should not apply in his case because the offences for which he was sentenced occurred before it was passed.

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.

Source: Agencies