Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi must spend at least four hours a week in the service of the elderly to repay society for his tax fraud conviction, the first sentence against him ever confirmed by Italy's highest court.
The one-year assignment, announced by a Milan court on Tuesday, curtails Berlusconi's ability to participate in the upcoming European election campaign — a point of contention among his political allies. The 77-year-old, three-time former premier cannot run due to the conviction, but remains a political force as head of Forza Italia.
His lawyers, who petitioned for community service rather than the even more restrictive house arrest, called the decision "balanced."
On the eve of the court's announcement, Berlusconi met with Premier Matteo Renzi at Palazzo Chigi. Renzi needs Berlusconi's backing on a constitutional reform to abolish the Senate.
"We are in a surreal situation because the person convicted is part of a political pact with the government," Giuliano Ferraro, editor of il Foglio and a staunch Berlusconi supporter, said on Sky TG24.
The court stipulated that Berlusconi must spend most of his time in the Lombard region, where he lives, but granted permission to travel to Rome from Tuesday to Thursday each week. He must spend at least four straight hours one day a week at an elderly center, the court said. The document did not identify the center, or specify what Berlusconi would do there.
Berlusconi was sentenced to four years for tax fraud, reduced to one year for a general amnesty. The one-year community service order may eventually be reduced by 45 days.
The state prosecutor supported the petition for community service, but asked the court to consider revoking it if Berlusconi insults judges while serving — something he has frequently done as he has fought numerous prosecutions over the years, mostly related to his business dealings.
The media mogul is on trial for political corruption in Naples and under investigation in Milan for witness tampering in trials relating to sex-fueled parties at his villa near Milan. His appeals trial for a conviction for having paid for sex with a minor and using his influence to cover it up is scheduled to open in June. He was sentenced to seven years in jail and given a lifetime political ban, but that has yet to be confirmed.