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September 20, 2017

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End of an era for tax cheat Berlusconi

ROME--Italy's press on Saturday heralded Silvio Berlusconi's jail sentence as the end of an era in the nation's politics, even as the disgraced ex-premier vowed to appeal his "intolerable" tax fraud conviction.

The scandal-hit billionaire tycoon had already announced his retirement from politics last week, but Friday's sentence put an emphatic punctuation mark on the end of his domination of the Italian political scene.

The Milan court banned Berlusconi, 76, from holding public office for five years and sentenced him to four years in jail — quickly reduced to one year under an amnesty law designed to tackle overcrowding in prisons.

Italy's lengthy appeals process will likely enable him to stave off both prison and political banishment, but Italian newspapers on Saturday nevertheless conducted a post-mortem on the Berlusconi era.

"An entire generation of Italians born after 1975 will for the first time vote in elections next spring that are not a pro- or anti-Berlusconi referendum," said influential daily La Stampa. "The mirages and alibis are finished," it declared.

"And so ends a Titanic affair, born in television and finished in court, with a clear, very tough and above all insulting punishment," wrote center left daily La Repubblica's editor, Ezio Mauro, retracing Berlusconi's political trajectory from "supreme domination" to his "fall from grace and definitive decline."

Left-leaning daily Il Fatto Quotidiano, which had waged war on Berlusconi's government during his three stints as prime minister between 1994 and 2011, ran a triumphant headline quoting the court's verdict, which said the media tycoon had a "natural capacity for delinquency."

The conviction "is the proof that Italy was governed for nine years by a tax cheat," said the paper.

Berlusconi Defiant

Berlusconi's lawyers said Friday that they would lodge an appeal by Nov. 10, according to media reports, automatically suspending the application of the sentence.

Berlusconi's reaction to the ruling was defiant.

"This is an incredible and intolerable political sentence. This is no doubt a political verdict, as political as all trials fabricated against me," he said on his Italia 1 television channel.

During the trial, which began six years ago but was repeatedly suspended, Berlusconi was accused of artificially inflating the price of distribution rights bought by his Mediaset empire and of creating foreign slush funds to avoid paying taxes in Italy.

The court also sentenced the media tycoon and 10 co-defendants to pay 10 million euros (US$13 million) to Italian tax authorities for losses in what they called "large-scale fraud."

The prosecution had asked for a prison sentence of three years and eight months for Berlusconi, post-war Italy's longest-serving prime minister.

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