The five-judge panel of Italy’s Supreme Court upheld a four year prison sentence for Silvio Berlusconi in a tax fraud case, as reported by Roberto Landucci and Barry Moody of Reuters. It’s a big blow to Italy’s fragile Enrico Letta government. In October 2012, Berlusconi was convicted of tax fraud in the acquisition of TV rights for his Mediaset network.

Silvio Berlusconi

The lower court in Milan sentenced Berlusconi with a four year prison term with a five-year ban on his political career. Berlusconi has appealed the verdict before Italy’s supreme court. The top court confirmed the four year jail term, but ordered a review of the five year ban from public office.  Berlusconi will remain the chief of his People of Freedom Party (PDL) and remain a senator, at least for now.

Italy’s Coalition Government under threat

It’s the first time Silvio Berlusconi, a media czar and three time former premier of Italy, has been definitively convicted of a criminal charges. If the Milan Court confirms Berlusconi’s public office ban, the stability of Enrico Letta’s coalition government will also be under threat. Italy is currently ruled by Enrico Letta’s Democratic Party (PD) and Berlusconi’s PDL. The confirmation will strip the media mogul of his Senate seat, and he will not be allowed to run in new elections.

Berlusconi’s defense attorney Franco Coppi argued to overturn the verdict. Coppi has also offered an alternative of ordering a new trial, that could lower the risk of a ban on Berlusconi’s political office. There are about 30 ongoing court cases against Berlusconi, including corruption, fraud and paying for sex with a teenage prostitute. He says that leftist judges are trying to eliminate him from Italy’s political map since he joined politics in 1994.

Berlusconi’s prison sentencee

Italy’s former prime minister has repeatedly stated that the verdict shouldn’t affect the stability of the government. But PDL supporters and leaders have called for public protests and mass walkout of PDL ministers if the court convicts Berlusconi.

The prison sentence isn’t as serious as it appears. An amnesty aimed at reducing prison crowding will shave off 3 years. Even for the remaining one year, he is unlikely to go to jail because people of his age can submit to house arrest.