A court in Naples has sentenced former Italian premier and media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi to three years in prison for bribing a senator as part of a plot to destabilise a 2006-08 centre-left government. Berlusconi, 78, will not have to serve the sentence as the statute of limitations expires later this year, well before a final ruling will have been reached on appeal.
“It was a good trial, passionate, but in terms of consequences the imminent expiration date takes all the pathos out of the verdict,” said prosecutor Henry John Woodcock after the sentence was delivered on Wednesday.
The case centred around bribes totalling €3m (£2.16m) that were paid, through an intermediary, to Sergio De Gregorio, who admits accepting the money, in order to get him to leave the coalition of then premier Romano Prodi.
The bribe was part of a plan to further weaken a fragile coalition and the defection was widely seen as hurting Prodi’s government, which collapsed in 2008, two years after the election. Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party won the resulting election and he served a third term as Italian premier until 2011.
The case marks the latest in a string of legal troubles for Berlusconi.
Earlier this year, he completed a community service order for corporate tax fraud but was cleared of having sex with an under-age dancer after judges ruled he could not have known she was a minor.
Berlusconi would have gone to prison for the tax fraud had he been younger but was allowed to serve his time by helping out once a week with dementia sufferers at an old people’s home.
In summing up the bribery case, prosecutor Vincenzo Piscitelli had told the court the €3m paid to the senator were “a colossal economic investment made with the aim of achieving the sole goal that interested Berlusconi, who was obsessed by his desire to kick Prodi out and take his post”. The case will reach its statute of limitations in October or November at the latest, according to Italian media.