Italy’s ex-PM Berlusconi expelled from parliament over tax fraud

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi gestures as he attends a rally outside his house, Palazzo Grazioli, on Wednesday in Rome, Italy. The Italian Senate has today voted to expel former Prime Minister Silvio Berlsuconi from parliament after his recent conviction over tax fraud. Giorgio Cosulich / Getty Images

ROME – Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was expelled from the country’s Senate by fellow lawmakers Wednesday following his conviction for tax fraud.

The center-right leader was stripped of his seat after a vote.

The 77-year-old billionaire, who has dominated Italian politics for two decades, earlier told supporters he would continue to lead his Forza Italia party from outside parliament.

"We must stay on the field, we must not despair if the leader of the center-right is not a senator any more. There are leaders of other parties who are not parliamentarians," Berlusconi told a crowd of supporters in central Rome. 

Berlusconi was sentenced in August to four years in prison, commuted to a year under house arrest or in community service, for masterminding an illegal scheme to reduce the tax bill of his media company.

As a consequence, the Senate was called to apply a recent law that bans convicted criminals from parliament and expel him.

The controversial politician has courted scandal during almost his whole political life, fending off numerous charges of abuse of office and corruption. Thanks to one of the slowest judiciary systems in Europe, and to what critics call self-serving laws passed during his time as prime minister, Berlusconi always managed to keep his criminal record clean. Until recently.

Silvio Berlusconi, left, is flanked by his girlfriend Francesca Pascale as he leaves after addressing a rally in Rome on Wednesday. Roberto Monaldo / AP

In August Italy’s High Court upheld his conviction in both first and second degree of a multi-million tax fraud he is said to have masterminded in the buying and selling of TV rights. It was the first definitive sentence against a politician who once claimed to be “the most persecuted man by the judiciary in all the history of the entire world.”

An astute and populist politician, Berlusconi managed to turn his many brushes with the law to his favor by claiming he was being persecuted by “communist” magistrates plotting his downfall. Millions of Italians bought this mantra over and over again, voting him back into power three times, and providing him with the political clout he was often accused of using to brush off his problems with justice.

Despite Berlusconi calling the tax fraud conviction a “coup d’état,” he could not stop the much dreaded vote in the Senate from going ahead. Following his conviction, he tried to blackmail his way out of trouble by threatening to pull his party’s support from the already fragile coalition government, to no avail. “B-Day,” as the day the Senate judged Berlusconi came to be known, went ahead.

His reputation and stature on the international scene, already tainted by lurid details of his infamous “bunga bunga” parties with young starlets and models, will now be irreparably damaged by his embarrassing expulsion from politics, even though he is unlikely to spend any time in prison.

His four year sentence was immediately reduced to one year thanks to an amnesty law. And in Italy, convicted felons over 70 year old without a previous criminal record, can opt to serve their sentence either under house arrest or through community service.

More than the prospect of spending one year locked in one of his many lavish houses, or serving food to the poor, Berlusconi seems to be more concerned with the loss of parliamentary immunity.

In a separate trial in June, he was sentenced to seven years in prison for allegedly showering a young prostitute, known as “Ruby the Heart-Stealer,” with cash and expensive presents in exchange for sexual favors. A third trial, in which he is accused of paying a senator millions of dollars to switch sides, is now underway.

While both the above trials are yet to reach the three degrees of judgment before a sentence is definitive, justice seems to be slowly catching up with one of the most controversial – and popular – politicians in Italian history. 

Reuters contributed to this report.