MILAN — A Milan court on Thursday convicted former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi of breach of confidentiality for the illegal publication of wiretapped conversations related to a failed bank takeover in a newspaper owned by his media empire.
The court sentenced him to one year in jail, but issued no orders on the carrying out of the sentence. In Italy, it is rare for anyone to be put behind bars pending a possible appeal except in the case of very serious crimes like murder.
Berlusconi’s brother, Paolo Berlusconi, was convicted of the same charge and sentenced to two years and three months. Paolo Berlusconi is publisher of the Milan newspaper il Giornale, which published the transcript of the conversation.
Silvio Berlusconi’s defense team had accused the court of seeking a speedy verdict for political impact.
Still, the verdict does not directly affect Berlusconi’s eligibility to participate in a new government because Italy — despite several attempts to pass such legislation — has no law banning people convicted of minor crimes from parliament. His center-right coalition last week finished third in parliamentary elections that saw no clear winner. Talks on forming a new government are expected to begin March 20.
The charge relates to the 2005 publication of a wiretapped call that was part of an investigation into the Unipol financial services company’s failed bid to take over the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro. The bid was blocked by Italy’s central bank, contributing to the forced resignation of then-Bank of Italy chief Antonio Fazio.
Wiretapped conversations are widely published in Italian media, despite the risks of prosecution.
In a potentially more damaging case, a verdict is also nearing in Berlusconi’s appeals trial on a conviction of tax fraud. Prosecutors have demanded the court uphold the October conviction and four-year sentence. They also are seeking a five-year ban from public office.
Berlusconi also is on trial in Milan for allegedly paying an under-age teen for sex and lying to cover it up, with a verdict likely this month. And prosecutors in Naples are investigating him for corruption for allegedly paying an opposition lawmaker €3 million to join his party, a move that significantly weakened the previous center-left government of Romano Prodi.