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Final appeals trial for Berlusconi's guilty tax fraud begins


08:35, July 31, 2013

ROME, July 30 (Xinhua) -- The final appeals trial for former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi's guilty tax fraud conviction began in Rome on Tuesday.

The media tycoon is accused of artificially inflating the price paid for television rights using offshore companies in order to avoid taxes.

Last month, an intermediate court in Milan upheld a lower court verdict giving him a four-year term in prison and five-year ban from public office. The highest court may confirm the ruling, overturn it, order a retrial or delay proceedings if requested by Berlusconi's lawyers.

One of his lawyers said on Tuesday they would not ask to postpone the verdict.

"On our part there will be no such request," Franco Coppi was quoted as saying by local media. In his view, the highest court will rule on the convictions on Wednesday evening or more likely Thursday.

Should the verdict be confirmed, it would become definitive, although because of a 2006 amnesty law, three of the four years' sentence will not be effective. In addition, being over 70, Berlusconi would probably not serve the remaining year in jail but be given social work or house arrest.

However, the five-year ban from public office would become effective if parliament ratifies it, as it is usual procedure, in which case Berlusconi would have to resign from his post as senator.

This could mean the end of his two-decade political career, although he would still be allowed, as a common citizen, to head his center-right party People of Freedom (PdL,) which leads the opinion polls and shares power with its rival Democratic Party (PD) in the left-right coalition government.

Though Prime Minister Enrico Letta repeated earlier this week that he was not worried about his government collapsing ahead of the ruling, dozens of Berlusconi's party members have threatened to withdraw support if their leader is banned from public office.

The 76-year-old, who entered politics in 1994, has faced some 30 corruption and fraud trials, but convictions have always either been overturned on appeal or the statute of limitations ran out. He has always denied any wrongdoing, claiming to be a victim of judges with a left-wing bias.

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