Italy ponders Silvio Berlusconi community service request

Friday, July 19, 2013 Silvio Berlusconi attends a voting session at the Senate in Rome.
Image caption Silvio Berlusconi says he is a victim of a meddlesome, biased judiciary

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi - whose four-year sentence for tax fraud has been reduced to 12 months under an amnesty - has submitted a formal request to perform a year of community service, instead of being confined to the gilded cage of one of his luxury homes under house arrest.

Under a law aimed at reducing prison overcrowding, senior citizens (Mr Berlusconi is 77) convicted of certain crimes can choose between house arrest and performing some socially useful task.

Ordinary criminals can be assigned by the courts to work in centres for drug addicts, or soup kitchens for the homeless, or looking after the elderly.

But Mr Berlusconi is no ordinary criminal.

He normally travels surrounded by a cohort of bodyguards - which might slightly impede any voluntary work he undertakes.

Telling jokes

He and his media companies also employ a small army of lawyers. Notwithstanding his final conviction by Italy's highest criminal court, the former prime minister still maintains that he is the innocent victim of politically biased judges.

Nonetheless, he still faces a possible ban on holding public office, and later this month will almost certainly be stripped of his seat in the Senate.

He was due to begin serving his sentence this week, but bureaucratic delays in the Italian judiciary are legendary. It now appears that no decision will be made by the authorities for at least six months as to how he is to pay off his debt to society.

The media mogul can propose what organisation he would like to join, but there is no guarantee that he will be assigned to the charity or the soup kitchen of his choice.

The Italian media has had a field day reporting serious, and less-than-serious, offers.

A street circus in Naples offered him a chance to go on stage and tell his own jokes.

Mr Berlusconi loves to entertain his friends in private with songs, and with jokes that are sometimes notoriously off-colour.

He began life as a crooner on board a cruise ship and he has written lyrics for his own songs composed and recorded by his close friend Mariano Apicella, a Neapolitan entertainer.

New amnesty?

A human rights group suggested that Mr Berlusconi could help them lobby international organisations for the abolition of the death penalty in countries where criminals are still executed.

A city in the north offered Mr Berlusconi a desk and an office to counsel business owners suffering from the economic recession.

Gino Strada, founder of Emergency, an Italian humanitarian organisation that provides medical services in war zones, including Afghanistan and Sudan, said Mr Berlusconi would be welcome to offer his services to them - although he added that perhaps they would keep him away from their accounts department.

Meanwhile, a new way out for Mr Berlusconi has appeared on the horizon.

President Giorgio Napolitano is urging the government to pass a new amnesty law aimed at reducing the severe overcrowding in Italy's prisons, and Mr Berlusconi's supporters are hoping that the measure might stretch to cover commuted sentences such as that given to the former prime minister.

For now, it is unclear whether the proposed amnesty could cover Mr Berlusconi's community service, and it may be several months before the bill is decided on.

Reform minister Gaetano Quagliarello, who belongs to Mr Berlusconi's Freedom Party, says it would be "unthinkable" to exclude him from a measure that applies to all Italian citizens.

Justice Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri, on the other hand, said last week she did not think Mr Berlusconi could benefit from the measure.

More on this story