Italy`s Berlusconi wins early release from community service

Silvio Berlusconi will not have to serve the final 45 days of a one-year community service order he received for tax fraud, a judge ruled Monday.

Rome: Silvio Berlusconi will not have to serve the final 45 days of a one-year community service order he received for tax fraud, a judge ruled Monday.

The former prime minister has been serving the order by helping out with Alzheimer`s patients at the Sacra Famiglia care home at Cesano Boscone near Milan every Friday since last May.

The judge`s decision to trim the sentence on good behaviour grounds means he will be freed from those duties on March 8, although a close aide said Belusconi, who is 78 himself, would continue to visit the elderly patients.

"It is very good news, his good behaviour was there for everyone to see," Giovanni Toti told TGCOM 24 television.

"He performed his social service very seriously and accepted a conviction we continue to regard as unjust. He has purged his sentence and will continue to visit the Sacra Famiglia."

As of March 8, Berlusconi will also regain his freedom of movement, which was restricted under the order, enabling him to resume a higher-profile role in national politics, despite still being banned from public office.

Media magnate Berlusconi was ousted from his seat in the upper-house Senate in November 2013 and banned from public office for six years under 2012 anti-corruption legislation. The `Severino` law provides for such bans for any politician sentenced to prison for two or more years.

After a series of appeals, Berlusconi was definitively convicted of tax fraud in August 2013 and sentenced to four years in prison. That was later reduced to the community service order in line with Italian judicial practice of not sending non-violent criminals over 70 to jail.

As his Forza Italia party essentially revolves around him with the backing of his media empire, Berlusconi was able to retain its leadership.

The centre right grouping retains considerable influence in parliament but has slipped badly in the opinion polls over the time its leader has been making his visits to the care home.Under the terms of the community service, Berlusconi needed permission to leave his residence over weekends and was subject to a nightly curfew.

That did not prevent him travelling regularly to Rome for negotiations with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, with whom he concluded a cooperation `pact` in June 2014.

That deal ensured that Berlusconi delivered vital votes to help Renzi steer a shake-up of Italy`s labour laws onto the statute book and a new electoral law through the Senate.

Renzi was however widely seen as having betrayed the pact last week by ignoring Berlusconi`s reservations when he successfully pushed for his candidate, Sergio Mattarella, to become Italy`s new president.

Mattarella, who once resigned as a minister over a law favouring Berlusconi`s media empire, is due to be sworn in on Tuesday.

Berlusconi was widely seen as wanting a more accommodating figure in the hope that his ban from the Senate could be overturned by a presidential pardon.

The tax case was only one of a series of legal cases in which Berlusconi has been embroiled for years.

He was convicted in 2013 of paying for sex with a minor, a 17-year-old dancer nicknamed "Ruby the Heartstealer" who allegedly attended what became known as "bunga bunga" parties at his villa in Milan and other residences.

An appeal court overturned that conviction last year, saying there was insufficient evidence that Berlusconi knew Ruby was under age.

The case will finally be concluded in the Court of Cassation in a fresh hearing due to start in March.

Also still rumbling through the legal system is a case in which Berlusconi is charged with bribing a Senator to join his party in 2006 as part of a plot to destabilise the centre-left government of the time.

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