Girlfriend keeps tabs as Berlusconi faces charity stint

Girlfriend keeps tabs as Berlusconi faces charity stint

ROME - With his girlfriend keeping a lid on costs at home, Italy's star convict Silvio Berlusconi is preparing to apply to do community service for a tax fraud conviction that is shaking up politics.

Francesca Pascale said Berlusconi's staff had been buying green beans at an extortionate 80 euros (S$135) per kilogramme and regularly bringing in crates of fish even though he does not eat it.

"It needed a woman in the house," the 28-year-old former shopkeeper, who claims she started pursuing Berlusconi when she was just a teenager, said in this week's edition of gossip weekly Oggi.

"When I started living with him, I found an unacceptable situation. I did what had to be done, a bit of a clean-up," said Pascale, a constant presence at Berlusconi's side - along with his pet poodle Dudu - during his recent legal woes.

"We are anxious. We no longer sleep," she said.

Italy's supreme court on August 1 turned down Berlusconi's final appeal, handing the billionaire tycoon his first ever definitive criminal conviction in a long history of legal trouble.

The tax fraud conviction is also expected to get Berlusconi expelled from his Senate seat later this month - a momentous event that his loyalists say they will fight against tooth and nail.

The sentence of four years in prison was commuted to one year because of an amnesty in place and because Berlusconi is over the age of 70 he will not have to do actual jail time.

Berlusconi's lawyers now have to make a formal request by October 15 on whether he wants to do his 12 months as community service or house arrest.

One of his lawyers, Franco Coppi, has said that an application for community service is more likely - a choice to be announced in the coming days.

Charities around Italy - from a clown-therapy workshop to a dog pound - have jokingly requested Berlusconi come and do his stint with them.

While he can indicate where he would like to work, the final choice is up to a court in Rome, where Berlusconi is resident. First a Milan court must approve the application.

"The person requesting community service usually names several organisations so as to avoid finding themselves cleaning toilets in the railway station," a source close to Berlusconi's defence told AFP on condition of anonymity.

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