Milan: Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi played a key role in a "massive" fraud by his media group, appeals judges in Milan have said.
The 76-year-old Berlusconi had appealed against his four-year conviction and a five-year ban from politics for tax fraud in a film-rights case involving his Mediaset television company.
Explaining why the court upheld his four-year prison term, the judges said Berlusconi was involved "for many years" in a fraudulent system, even while he was premier.
"He continued despite the public roles assumed. He conducted it in the highest possible positions," the judges said.
Oral and written evidence showed that Berlusconi "directly managed" the first stages of an "enormous tax evasion" scam using offshore companies, the judges stated.
Three-time premier Berlusconi intends to challenge the Milan appeals court ruling at Italy`s supreme court and denies wrongdoing, claiming he was not involved in the Mediaset film-rights trades as he was busy running the country.
But Thursday`s reasoning upheld the conclusions of the original trial in October 2012, that Berlusconi "remained at the top of the management" and "there was no other person" capable of managing the fraudulent deals.
Berlusconi will not face imprisonment unless the conviction is upheld by the supreme court, and thanks to a 2006 amnesty will not have to serve three of the four years of his jail sentence if he loses his second and final appeal.
The court also said the media magnate had "defamed" judges in his failed bid to move his current sex trial and his tax fraud appeal away from Milan, claiming its magistrates were biased against him.
Moreover, an eye inflammation problem invoked repeatedly by Berlusconi`s lawyers "cannot justify the postponement of court hearings," the court said.
Hearings in his tax fraud appeal and his trial for paying an underage prostitute for sex and abuse of office were postponed several times in recent months, during the election campaign and ensuing government crisis after the inconclusive poll produced a hung Parliament.