Silvio Berlusconi sentenced for tax fraud
Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been handed a jail sentence and barred from office after being found guilty of tax fraud.
The Milan court sentenced him to four years but later cut it to one year because of an amnesty law.
Mr Berlusconi condemned the sentence as "intolerable judicial harassment". He will remain free pending appeals.
He and others were accused of buying US film rights at inflated prices via two offshore companies under his control.
It is the first time Mr Berlusconi - who has faced a number of trials - has been convicted of any crime concerning his business activities.
He has in the past either been cleared, or cases have run beyond the judicial time limit.
In 1997 he received a suspended sentence for false book-keeping but that conviction was reversed on appeal.
Silvio Berlusconi is down but not out as a result of his conviction and sentencing for tax fraud.
But the verdict had an immediate effect on his personal fortunes. Shares in his flagship Mediaset TV company slumped by 3% on the Milan stockmarket.
Mr Berlusconi's active political career can however be considered terminated by the successful conviction.
He had already announced earlier in the week that he was stepping down as leader of his Freedom Party and will not be offering himself for re-election as prime minister in next year's general election.
The Italian media mogul has spent the greater part of the past two decades drawing up legislation designed to ensure his impunity in various current criminal cases in which he has been charged with crimes of corruption.
It is ironic that the reduction in his sentence from four years to one year is due to an amnesty decision by a rival centre-left government in 2006, aimed at reducing Italy's prison population.
In the case for which he was sentenced on Friday, prosecutors argued that part of the money declared for the purchase of film rights was skimmed off to create illegal slush funds, reducing tax liabilities for Mr Berlusconi's Mediaset group.
The court handed Mr Berlusconi a longer sentence than the three years and eight months requested by prosecutors. However, it later announced that the sentence would be cut to one year due to a 2006 amnesty law aimed at reducing prison overcrowding.
It ordered him and his co-defendants to pay 10m euros (£8m) in damages and banned him from holding public office for three years.
Both the jail term and the ban would only take effect if the sentence is upheld by a higher court, Italian news agency Ansa reported.
"It is a political, incredible and intolerable judgement," Mr Berlusconi said on Italia 1 - one of the TV stations he owns.
"It is without any doubt a political verdict just as all the cases invented against me are political."
In all, 11 people were on trial.
Three were acquitted including Mediaset chairman Fedele Confalonieri, a close associate of Mr Berlusconi, and four were cleared because the statute of limitations had run out.
The three others convicted alongside the former prime minister included Hollywood producer Frank Agrama, who received a three-year sentence.
The trial began six years ago and has been subject to repeated delays, in part because of an immunity law that protected Mr Berlusconi while he was prime minister.Sex case
Silvio Berlusconi's trials
- Accused of having paid for sex with an underage prostitute and of abuse of power for asking police to release her when she was arrested for theft
- Convicted of tax fraud in case focusing on the purchase of the TV rights to US films by his company, Mediaset
- Two other corruption cases - involving alleged tax evasion by his Mediaset company and the alleged bribing of British lawyer - expired under statute of limitations
The BBC's David Willey in Rome says Mr Berlusconi is unlikely ever to serve his sentence as the conviction first has to be confirmed by two successive courts of appeal.
The appeals could take years, he adds.
In February a court threw out a corruption case against him after the statute of limitations had expired.
He is also currently on trial charged with paying for sex with an underage girl and trying to cover it up. He denies any wrongdoing.
Mr Berlusconi, 76, has dominated Italian politics for most of the past 20 years.
He was forced to resign as the prime minister of a centre-right coalition last November, and recently said he had no plans to stand again in elections due next year.
He has repeatedly claimed that he is a victim of persecution by a left-wing judiciary.
Mr Berlusconi is not the first Italian prime minister to be convicted of a crime.
Bettino Craxi, a socialist who helped Mr Berlusconi to build his media empire, fled the country in 1994 to avoid imprisonment in a corruption trial and died in exile in Tunisia.