An assistant pushes a woman in her wheelchair at the Sacred Family Foundation, where former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will serve a tax fraud sentence by doing community service with the elderly. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo
A court has ordered former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
to serve a tax fraud sentence by doing community service with
the elderly, in a ruling that restricts his movements but not
his political activity.
The court ruled that Berlusconi, one of Italy's richest men,
must spend four hours a week in a Catholic old people's home
on the outskirts of Milan for a year. The home's director
said the media tycoon would keep residents company and take
them to Mass.
The four-time prime minister, 77, will not be allowed to
travel outside Lombardy, the region around Milan where he has
his main residence, except for restricted trips to Rome.
However, Berlusconi's allies said he would still be able to
campaign for next month's European Parliament election and
play a political role. The ruling does not mention any
restrictions on holding political rallies or giving
Following a definitive tax fraud conviction last year,
Berlusconi was stripped of his seat in the Italian Senate and
barred from holding public office for two years.
But he remains the most influential politician on Italy's
centre-right as leader of the Forza Italia party.
A court statement said the trips to Rome could take place
weekly, from Tuesday to Thursday, with Berlusconi ordered to
be back at his Lombardy residence by 11pm each Thursday.
Berlusconi is expected to begin his community service duty by
the end of the month.
His lawyers Franco Coppi and Niccolo Ghedini said in a
statement that the ruling "appears balanced and satisfactory
even with regards to the needs of political activity", and
political allies said they were pleased with the decision.
"Berlusconi will take part in the electoral campaign," said
his aide, Giovanni Toti. Another ally, Raffaele Fitto, said
the ruling was nonetheless "a deep wound for Italian
Milan prosecutors did not press for house arrest and agreed
with Berlusconi's lawyers to ask for community service.
The court said the twice-divorced TV magnate will work at the
Sacred Family Foundation in suburban Cesano Boscone. Founded
in 1896, the Church-run centre cares for about 2,000 old and
disabled people on a site complete with a chapel and a
Its director, Paolo Pigni, said the plan had yet to be
formalised but the foundation had offered to give Berlusconi
work supporting staff in its facility for the elderly: "It
would mean accompanying people to mass, entertaining them,
going for a stroll together, just being near them," he told
Berlusconi, who is also appealing a conviction for paying for
sex with an underage prostitute, has dominated Italian
politics since the mid-1990s, repeatedly escaping punishment
in criminal cases he said were engineered by his political
That run came to an end in August, when he was finally
convicted of masterminding a complex system of tax fraud at
his Mediaset television network. His four-year sentence was
commuted to a year under a law aimed at reducing prison
Berlusconi continues to protest his innocence and says he has
been persecuted by leftist magistrates.
By doing community service, the former cruise ship crooner
joins the likes of singers Boy George, who was ordered to
sweep clean the streets of New York after cocaine was found
at his apartment, and George Michael, who did some work at a
London homeless shelter after driving under the influence of
"I am very happy with this sentence because I certainly do
not understand why he should have any kind of privileged
position. If this is the punishment, even if it seems very
small to me, then this is correct," said Rome resident
The centre-right has suffered an internal split and lost
support since Berlusconi almost won last year's national
election, but Forza Italia is still Italy's second or third
largest party with about 20 percent of the vote, according to
varying opinion polls.