Italy's Berlusconi convicted over leaks

Ex-PM sentenced to year in prison over publication of leaked transcripts from police wiretap in newspaper he owns.

    An Italian court has sentenced former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi to a year in prison over the publication of
    leaked transcripts from a police wiretap in a newspaper that he owns.

    Berlusconi, who faces two more verdicts this month for tax fraud and having sex with an underage prostitute, can appeal Thursday's conviction which would suspend the sentence under Italian law.

    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, a billionaire media tycoon, is 76.

    He stood accused of violating secrecy laws after his il Giornale daily published transcripts in 2005 that were widely seen as an attempt to discredit a senior member of the centre-left Democratic Party ahead of elections in 2006.

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

    Following Thursday's verdict, he repeated denials that he was in any way connected with wrongdoing and said the decision showed that politically motivated judges were conducting a campaign against him.

    "It is impossible to tolerate judicial persecution of this kind which has been going on for 20 years and which re-emerges every time there are politically complex moments in the political life of our country," he said in a statement.

    His brother Paolo, editor of il Giornale, was sentenced to two years and three months.

    The court awarded 80,000 euros in damages to Piero Fassino, who was head of the main centre-left party at the time of the incident and whose remarks were caught on the wiretap and published in the newspaper.

    Tana De Zulueta, an Italian journalist, told Al Jazeera that Berlusconi "has been found guilty in the past, but conveniently the statute of limitations have up until now protected him from the kind of conviction that could get him into prison".

    "By the way, the statute of limitations being so short was one of his own legal changes," she said.

    "He is also a political survivor," she added.

    The three-time prime minister 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.

    He resigned as as prime minister in November 2011 amid debt woes, but made comeback in the last month's elections coming at second place.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera And Agencies


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