Silvio Berlusconi today was convicted by an Italian court and sentenced to one year in jail, and is likely to be hit with a five-year ban on holding public office.
It’s unlikely the 76-year-old mogul will serve time in prison, but the ruling is a personal blow to him. However, the conviction is not expected to have a major impact on Mediaset, shares which have been steadily rising on the Milan bourse for months thanks to cost-cutting measures, an improved outlook for Italy’s advertising sector, and a recent deal with Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia to carry Fox Sports and its crucial soccer content.
This is presumed to be the final appeal in a highly sensitive tax fraud case involving multimillion-dollar Hollywood deals. Berlusconi is not likely to go to jail because of his age. But he could serve a year under house arrest.
Speculation had swirled that a political crisis could ensue if the media-mogul-turned-pol were found guilty, and that a conviction would mark the end of his political career, although the court has ordered a further judicial review of the ban on holding public office. However, the politician has bounced back multiple times after being declared finished.
The case pertains to TV rights to some 3,000 movies from studios, including Paramount and Fox, purchased at inflated prices through offshore companies between 1995 and 1998 to allegedly evade taxes and create a slush fund.
Under Italy’s three-tier appeals system, Berlusconi had been convicted twice, to four years in jail and to a five-year ban from politics in a case that has been dragging on for seven years.
TV crews from around the world have been gathered in front of Rome’s gigantic Palace of Justice for the verdict, which Berlusconi’s lawyer Franco Coppi had predicted would arrive Wednesday or Thursday.
Mediaset shares have been buoyant this week, driven largely by the fact that on Monday Mediaset’s paybox Mediaset Premium inked a key deal to carry Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Sports channel which includes live British, French, and Spanish top league soccer, providing a big boost to the paybox’s football offerings.
The wider implication of this deal is that Mediaset and Murdoch’s Sky Italia paybox have reached a truce, after being at each other’s throats for years. They are united by a common effort to counter the arrival in Italy of Al Jazeera which is ramping up its global sports side.
On the legal front, Berlusconi has always maintained his innocence. His daughter Marina is chairman of his Fininvest company, while his son Pier Silvio is Mediaset vice chairman.