Milan: An Italian court on Thursday began a sentencing hearing against Silvio Berlusconi which could see the three-time former prime minister and billionaire tycoon forced to do community service for nine months.
Berlusconi`s lawyers were seen arriving at the Milan courtroom as his top supporter in Parliament likened Berlusconi to Myanmar pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi who was under house arrest for two decades.
Berlusconi himself was not present. But security was heightened outside the courtroom, with police officers patrolling the corridors, and there was a large number of reporters and cameramen waiting outside.
The 77-year-old has been sentenced to a year`s prison but will avoid actual jail time because of leniency for over-70s in Italy, and the period is likely to be further reduced by 90 days due to good behaviour.
Italian media said Berlusconi`s lawyers have requested that he be assigned to work one day a week in a centre for physically and mentally disabled people near his sprawling estate at Arcore outside Milan.
La Stampa quoted his lawyers as saying that Berlusconi would be able to "give hope" to the disabled and reported that the centre had not yet been created and that the media magnate "could in fact be its patron".
"He would be able to show off his relentless optimism and use it for the campaign" ahead of European Parliament elections in May, La Stampa said.
Italian media earlier reported that the office for non-prison sentences in Milan had requested that Berlusconi work in an old people`s home once a week.
The ruling is expected within days.
Today`s court hearing is a further humiliation for Berlusconi, who has already been expelled from Parliament over his conviction and is banned from standing as a candidate in elections for six years.
He remains the figurehead leader and main force behind Italy`s top centre-right party, Forza Italia, which has fallen behind in the polls but could still be a major player in Italy with Berlusconi`s campaign skills.
"Think of Aung San Suu Kyi who was under house arrest and became a global symbol. When you try to shut them up or block them, they become even stronger," he said.
Nunzia De Girolamo, from the smaller New Centre Right party, said the hearing was based "on an unjust sentence and it`s not him who needs re-education".
Cabinet secretary Graziano Delrio, a top ally of centre-left Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, said only that Thursday was "a sensitive day" for Berlusconi but added that it would not upset the political landscape.