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Silvio Berlusconi's fury at Italian high court verdict upholding prison sentence

From Hada Messia, CNN
updated 7:59 AM EDT, Fri August 2, 2013
Silvio Berlusconi gestures as he takes part at a People of Freedom meeting in Rome on September 9, 2009. In November last year, <a href='http://cnn.com/2013/11/27/world/europe/italy-berlusconi/index.html'>the Italian Senate voted to expel Italy's three-time former prime minister </a>from parliament after his conviction for tax fraud. Silvio Berlusconi gestures as he takes part at a People of Freedom meeting in Rome on September 9, 2009. In November last year, the Italian Senate voted to expel Italy's three-time former prime minister from parliament after his conviction for tax fraud.
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'Il Cavaliere' Silvio Berlusconi
'Il Cavaliere' Silvio Berlusconi
'Il Cavaliere' Silvio Berlusconi
'Il Cavaliere' Silvio Berlusconi
'Il Cavaliere' Silvio Berlusconi
'Il Cavaliere' Silvio Berlusconi
'Il Cavaliere' Silvio Berlusconi
'Il Cavaliere' Silvio Berlusconi
'Il Cavaliere' Silvio Berlusconi
'Il Cavaliere' Silvio Berlusconi
'Il Cavaliere' Silvio Berlusconi
'Il Cavaliere' Silvio Berlusconi
'Il Cavaliere' Silvio Berlusconi
'Il Cavaliere' Silvio Berlusconi
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Berlusconi lambasts a court ruling against him, saying it's baseless
  • His tax evasion conviction is upheld, but the impact on his political career is unclear
  • He is unlikely to serve time behind bars because of his age
  • The high court says a lower court should reconsider barring him from public office

Rome (CNN) -- Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has lashed out at a ruling by the country's high court that upheld a prison sentence for him in a tax fraud case.

In a nine-minute video on Thursday, an indignant and defiant Berlusconi vented his anger over the court's decision.

"In exchange for the commitments I have made over almost 20 years in favor of my country and coming almost at the end of my public life, I receive as a reward accusations and a verdict that is founded on absolutely nothing, that takes away my personal freedoms and my political rights," he said.

"That is how Italy recognizes the sacrifices and commitments of its best citizens?" Berlusconi wondered out loud. "Is this the Italy that we love? Is this the Italy that we want? Absolutely not.

The high court had said earlier Thursday that it supported a lower court's four-year prison sentence for Berlusconi.

Three years of that sentence are covered in an amnesty aimed at cutting down on prison overcrowding, effectively reducing Berlusconi's sentence to one year.

Italian court upholds Berlusconi verdict
The rise and fall of Berlusconi
Author: 'Don't count Berlusconi out'

The high court also ordered a lower court to reconsider whether Berlusconi, 76, should be banned from public office -- a controversial issue that could play a key role in the country's political future.

A lower court convicted Berlusconi of tax evasion last October, sentencing him to four years in prison and barring him from public office for five years. In May, an Italian appeals court in Milan upheld that decision.

The former prime minister can't appeal the high court's decision in the case.

But it's unlikely he'll spend time behind bars, because of his age and the shortness of the sentence.

Berlusconi is a member of Italy's Senate and therefore enjoys immunity from any type of arrest.

The Senate would have to vote to have his immunity lifted in order to serve any sentence.

Berlusconi, who served on and off as prime minister between 1994 and 2011, is one of the most colorful and controversial figures in the lively history of Italian politics.

A look at the life of Silvio Berlusconi

For years, he has been entangled in fraud, corruption and sex scandals that have often reached Italian courts.

In June, a panel of judges sentenced Berlusconi to seven years in prison for abusing power and having sex with an underage prostitute. Berlusconi's attorney told reporters he plans to appeal that conviction.

Undaunted by the court battles, Berlusconi has not only launched appeals, but in December made two significant announcements: his engagement to 27-year-old Francesca Pascale, and then, his political comeback.

In Italy's February elections, the three-time prime minister appealed to Italian voters by denouncing the unpopular austerity policies of technocrat Mario Monti.

For all his critics, Berlusconi won almost 30% of the vote in February and remains an influential figure in Prime Minister Enrico Letta's fragile coalition government.

CNN's Becky Anderson, Peter Wilkinson and Paul Armstrong contributed to this report.

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