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Berlusconi prepares for charity stint

11 October 2013, 11:03

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/kg 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.

Criminal conviction

Italy's Supreme Court on 1 August 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 15 October 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.

Avoiding cleaning toilets

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.

Berlusconi had earlier rejected the idea of community service as worthy of a "common criminal".

But experts say it is the option that would give him the most freedom since under the rules of house arrest in Italy, the criminal has to make a specific request for every movement outside.

The charity seen as the most likely choice for Berlusconi is the Italian Centre for Solidarity, or CEIS, in Rome which helps former drug addicts.

Berlusconi's friend Cesare Previti, a former defence minister in one of the three-time prime minister's governments, did his community service at the centre when he was convicted of corruption.

Improbable work

The prospect of seeing Berlusconi stacking supermarket shelves or cleaning up graffiti is improbable - also because as a former premier he has to travel with a large retinue of bodyguards.

Some media have also mentioned the possibility of him working for an organisation that campaigns against the death penalty around the world.

The group is linked to the Radical Party, which is calling for an overhaul of Italy's justice system - a subject very close to Berlusconi's heart.

In any case, there could be a very long wait.

Sources said Berlusconi's punishment may not come for weeks or even as late as early 2014 because of the procedural delays. The one-year sentence can also be cut to nine months for good behaviour.

"If he was any other convict, the court would hold a hearing between January and March 2014 to take a decision," the source said, although for such a high-profile case it is more difficult to predict.

As he awaits his fate from the courts, the source said: "Silvio Berlusconi is a free man. He can behave as if nothing happened."



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