Silvio Berlusconi Sentenced To Four Years In Prison Over Mediaset Tax Evasion

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has been sentenced to four years in jail and barred from holding political office for three years after being convicted of tax evasion.

Berlusconi, 76, and his co-defendants were accused of buying the rights to broadcast American films and falsely declaring the payments to lower the amount of tax their Meadiaset TV firm had to pay.

Prosecutors in Milan also alleged they inflated the price of around 3,000 films and pocketed the difference, making them around €250m.

However the former prime minister will likely never actually see the inside of a jail as under Italian law, passed by Berlusconi, no one older than 70 can be sent to prison.

He is likely to appeal the verdict due to the damage to his reputation it will cause. Berlusconi has faced a series of charges in the Italian court ranging from tax fraud to sex with an under-age prostitute.

L'Huffington Post in Italy reports that Berlusconi will fly to Malindi, Kenya, on Wednesday to Flavio Briatore's luxury hotel for a 'healthy retreat'.

Vittorio Feltri, editor in chief of Il Giornale (owned by Berlusconi) said the former PM was "tired".

"This leads him to distance himself from the things that bother him, the atmosphere and the people he once trusted," he added.

Italian senator Paolo Guzzanti told the BBC that the court's decision would "put him out of any political game" for good. "Nobody is surprised, he has so many trials and judicial problems," he said.

In 2009 Berlusconi said that over 20 years he had made 2,500 court appearances in 106 trials, at a legal cost of 200m euros.

He has escaped jail sentences on four other occasions after the cases ended in acquittal or were thrown out for statute of limitations.

Earlier this week he announced he would not seek to return as prime minister in the upcoming Italian elections.

He stepped down last November after Italy came under intense market pressure to deal with its high levels of debt.

Having served three terms in office Berlusconi was Italy's longest serving post-war prime minister.

The billionaire media-mogul was first elected as prime minister in 1994 having founded his own political party, Forza Italia. He went on to secure two further victories in 2001 and 2008.

Berlusconi did lose power to left-wing Romano Prodi in 1996 and 2006. But bounced back both times.