An innovative way to discover the story of Palestine
Vote for us. Our Digital Magazine is up for a Webby Award.
09 May 2014 17:11 GMT | Europe, Italy
Italy's Silvio Berlusconi has begun community service for tax fraud, marking a fall from grace for the former prime minister.
Berlusconi, who was convicted last year and has been expelled from parliament, has been ordered to work once a week for up to a year as a volunteer in a hospice for Alzheimer's patients near Milan.
Berlusconi arrived on Friday at the clinic with his security detail in a chauffeur-driven car, wearing a blue suit with an Italian flag badge.
The Catholic Church-run hospice in Cesano Boscone has said it will not allow Berlusconi to use his stint for political mileage in front of the world's media and will treat him like any other volunteer.
Berlusconi, 77, has dominated Italian politics for two decades and is leading a campaign for European Parliament elections despite being barred from running and his party is expected to get 20 percent of the vote.
Massimo Restelli, head of the hospice's care services, told the La Repubblica daily that Berlusconi's introduction would be "gradual" so that he and the elderly patients can get used to each other.
"It will be small steps so as not to make any mistakes. And then he could do all sorts of things. He could help with meals, which are tricky because sometimes you have to 'remind' the patient that they are eating," he said.
"We ask everyone including Berlusconi to observe, to listen and not to get performance anxiety," he said, adding that the media magnate would be accompanied at all times by a medical worker specialised in Alzheimer's.
"We'll see if Berlusconi's presence creates some kind of close bond, if he is a reference for anyone. The guests do remember things, even if that seems absurd to people who do not know the illness."
'Big surprise' promised
Berlusconi himself has said in interviews that he has a "big surprise" in store and has hinted that this could involve a deeper commitment to Alzheimer's sufferers.
"I think in the end I will stay a lot longer than I have to. I have a big surprise prepared. It took me just 10 days to learn the different cure methods that can be used," Berlusconi told a radio show.
Emilio Fede, a former television anchor who has been convicted of procuring prostitutes for Berlusconi, has said his friend is unperturbed by the community service.
"Berlusconi is preparing carefully and is studying everything on Alzheimer's. He will do it well and with humanity," Fede said, adding that the service would be a tribute to Berlusconi's late mother, Rosa.
"She was a very important reference in his life and she always cared for elderly people," Fede said.
The sentence is seen as part of a slow-moving disintegration of Berlusconi as a political force, with his Forza Italia party divided by bickering and top allies indicted for Mafia ties and corruption.
It was Berlusconi's first definitive criminal conviction and could herald more legal troubles ahead as he appeals a sentence for abuse of power and having sex with an underage prostitute.
He is also a defendant in a trial for bribing a former left-wing senator to undermine a rival party in power at the time.
The tax fraud case has highlighted delays in Italy's justice system since the investigation began back in 2001 with police raids on offices of his media empire Mediaset when he was prime minister.
He was first convicted in 2012 and lost his final appeal last year in a case that centred on fraudulent methods used to purchase film distribution rights in order to avoid paying taxes in Italy.
Berlusconi was sentenced to a year in prison, but a judge ruled he did not actually have to go to jail thanks to lenient sentencing guidelines in Italy for over-70s found guilty of non-violent crimes.
He was also spared house arrest and will only have to do community service for around 10 months - as long as he respects a series of restrictions on his movements, including a nightly curfew.
Colourful and outspoken Italian leader earned notoriety for a slew of embarrassing remarks, pranks and gaffes.
Europe, US & Canada, Germany, Italy, Spain
Italy's "self-made" man dominated the country's politics for nearly two decades.
Europe, US & Canada, Bermuda, China, Italy
Content on this website is for general information purposes only. Your comments
are provided by your own free will and you take sole responsibility for any direct
or indirect liability. You hereby provide us with an irrevocable, unlimited, and
global license for no consideration to use, reuse, delete or publish comments, in
accordance with Community Rules & Guidelines and Terms and Conditions.
Fifty-four years after the failed CIA operation, Cubans there on Giron beach recount the botched raid.
War & Conflict, History, Cuba
The lives of 304 people - including 250 schoolchildren - were lost a year ago, prompting national angst and anger.
South Korea, Park Geun-hye, Asia Pacific
As officials work on peace deals with separatists, a rogue religious battalion vows to fight its way to Moscow.
War & Conflict, Europe, Russia
Despite risk of decades-long jail term, Zunar the Malaysian cartoonist vows to carry on cartooning.
Politics, Human Rights, Asia Pacific
At least three die after a car bomb explodes outside American consulate, as a wave of deadly bombings targets Baghdad.
War & Conflict, Iraq
Arrests made in Gauteng province following overnight street battles in downtown Johannesburg.
War & Conflict, Politics, Human Rights, Africa, South Africa
General Asad Durrani, the former head of the ISI, Pakistan's notorious spy agency, on its role in the "War on Terror".
Politics, War & Conflict, Asia
101 East investigates the multi-billion-dollar trade in counterfeit medicines, which is creating a global health crisis.
Health, Thailand, Asia Pacific
Marco Polo's travels retraced - from the Pamir Mountains along the Silk Road to Xanadu and the kingdom of women.
Arts & Culture, Business & Economy, China
We explore the hip side of Congo-Brazzaville with a style icon, a rap artist, a wrestler, and a radio talk show host.
Arts & Culture, Congo, France