(ANSAmed) - Milan, March 7 - Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi was handed a one-year prison term by a Milan court on Thursday for involvement in the publication of an illegally obtained wiretap in his brother Paolo's conservative newspaper Il Giornale.
Paolo Berlusconi was given a sentence of two years, three months in the first ruling on the case. In Italy prison sentences for non-violent crimes do not usually become effective until the two-tier appeals system has been exhausted.
Berlusconi, who is also appealing against a separate fraud conviction and is on trial for allegedly paying for sex with an underage prostitute, said the ruling was part of a campaign by a group of left-wing magistrates who are targeting him for political motives.
"It's truly impossible to tolerate judicial persecution like this, which has lasted 20 years and revs up every time there are particularly complex moments in the country's political life," said Berlusconi, whose centre-right coalition came second in last month's inconclusive general election.
The wiretap concerned a conversation in 2005 between one
of Berlusconi's political opponents, Piero Fassino, the then
head of the former centre-left Democratic Left (DS) party, and
Giovanni Consorte, the former chairman of Unipol, an association
of insurers historically linked to the DS, the heir to Italy's
At the time Unipol came close to taking over one of
Italy's leading banks, Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (BNL), and
Fassino was recorded as saying "we have a bank!".
Fassino, now mayor of Turin, was widely criticised for the
comment, especially among the rank and file of the DS, which has
since turned into a larger centre-left group, the Democratic
The court ordered Silvio and Paolo Berlusconi to pay 80,000 euros in damages to Fassino.
"This is a sentence that re-establishes truth and justice and it confirms that a campaign of political vilification and delegitimization was deliberately created for years around an ironic expression," Fassino said.
"It also confirms how much Italian politics has been deeply polluted by illegal practices in recent years".
Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party, however, said Thursday's sentence could spark a "rebellion".
"Expect a rebellion against this way of administering justice," said Sandro Bondi, a senior PdL member and former culture minister. "Today's sentence sounds like a ridiculous insult to intelligence and to justice. "At this rate the country will mount an open rebellion - a civil and democratic rebellion, but a full-blown rebellion nonetheless".
This week the PdL said it would hold monthly "freedom square" protests to demonstrate against "concentric attacks" by prosecutors against Berlusconi.
The move came after it emerged that Berlusconi was being probed in Naples for allegedly paying three million euros to Senator Sergio De Gregorio to switch sides from the centre left to the centre right. De Gregorio, who prosecutors say has admitted to receiving bribes, defected from the centre left during Romano Prodìs 2006-2008 government and eventually joined Berlusconi's party.
Berlusconi is on also trial in Milan over accusations he paid for sex with an underage Moroccan dancer, and is accused of abuse of office in the same case.
He is appealing against a one-year conviction he was handed last year for tax fraud on film rights for his Mediaset TV group too.
"It's increasingly clear that there is an attempt to eliminate Silvio Berlusconi via judicial means, as attempts to do so via electoral and democratic ones have failed," said PdL Secretary Angelino Alfano.
In the ongoing and several other previous trials, Berlusconi has always denied wrongdoing, claiming he is the victim of judicial persecution.
Berlusconi has been tried some 30 times but has only been convicted three times - verdicts that were either timed out or overturned on appeal - prior to last year's Mediaset fraud verdict.
Piero Longo, one of Berlusconi's attorneys and a PdL lawmaker, said there was no evidence for Thursday's conviction but added he was not surprised by the decision because it was made in Milan, the base for several of the cases against the ex-premier.
"I think it's the first time anyone has been sentenced (in Italy) for breach of judicial secrecy," said Longo.
"With utmost respect for the judges, I don't think the magistrates have any feelings," he added when asked if the sentence was political.