Italy's Berlusconi starts community service at old people's home

Fri May 9, 2014 11:57am EDT
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By Silvia Aloisi and Ilaria Polleschi

CESANO BOSCONE Italy (Reuters) - Silvio Berlusconi smiled and waved as he left an old people's home on Friday after his first stint of community service, a symbolic punishment for tax fraud that still allows him to wield huge influence over Italian politics.

The four-time prime minister, himself 77 years old, had initially received a four-year jail sentence, but that was commuted to one year's community service and he will spend at least four hours a week at a centre for Alzheimer's patients in a small town on the edge of Milan.

In a striking fall from grace, the media tycoon arrived in the morning in a sedan with darkened windows, wearing his trademark dark suit.

Ignoring around 200 Italian and foreign journalists, Berlusconi left bodyguards and aides outside as he entered the Sacred Family institute, a sprawling structure caring for the elderly and mentally ill.

As he left after four hours, he waived and smiled briefly at the media without making a comment, in line with rules that prevent him from speaking to reporters while on the premises.

A lone trade union protester in a clown's hat shouted that Berlusconi should go to prison in Milan's nearby San Vittore jail before being escorted away by security.

Following his definitive tax fraud conviction last year in a case revolving around his Mediaset broadcaster, Berlusconi was stripped of his seat in the Italian Senate and barred from holding public office for two years.

But he remains the most influential politician on Italy's centre right, as leader of the Forza Italia party he created, and he played a key role in negotiations with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi this year on reforming the electoral law.   Continued...

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi waves as he leaves the Sacred Family Foundation in Cesano Boscone, a small town on the outskirts of Milan May 9, 2014. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini