Convict Berlusconi braces for key court date

Convict Berlusconi braces for key court date

MILAN - Italy's Silvio Berlusconi braced for a crucial court date on Thursday that will result in the three-time former prime minister losing freedom of movement for a few months although avoiding actual prison time.

The court in Milan has to issue its ruling by April 15, deciding whether the disgraced billionaire tycoon will do community service or be placed under house arrest following a conviction for tax fraud from last year.

The court appointment 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.

The hearing in Milan is due to start at 1500 GMT and Berlusconi's presence cannot be excluded, although he most often skips his many court appointments as defendants in Italy are not compelled to attend.

Following court procedure for this type of post-sentencing hearing, it will be preceded on the same day by around 50 other cases for convicts whose surnames also begin with "B", Italian media reported.

Among the cases being heard on the same day are those of a drug addict asking to be released from house arrest and a Senegalese migrant appealing against deportation order, Italian media reported.

Berlusconi has also received a visit from a social worker at his sprawling mansion outside Milan as part of legal procedures ahead of the court hearing, which will be followed by more visits in the months to come.

The ruling will come at a critical time for Berlusconi on the political front ahead of European elections next month as he remains the figurehead leader and main force behind Italy's top centre-right party.

His Forza Italia group has fallen behind in the opinion polls faced with a resurgent centre-left under Prime Minister Matteo Renzi but under normal conditions Berlusconi would still be a formidable rival.

Berlusconi was sentenced to a year's prison for the fraud, which involves the sale and purchase of film distribution rights by his business empire Mediaset.

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