ROME -– Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi came out swinging Saturday after a court sentenced him to four years in prison for tax fraud, vowing to dedicate himself to reforming the Italian justice system, which he said was dominated by a “dictatorship of magistrates.”
“I’m staying in the game,” the flamboyant media tycoon said in an interview early Saturday, appearing to contradict the announcement he made days earlier that he was retreating from Italian political life.
But the combative 76-year-old former leader, who was forced to step down a year ago amid the country’s financial crisis, said later he had not changed his mind on seeking the premiership again but rather would work to change the judiciary “because we cannot go on this way. This is not a democracy.”
He did say, however, that he was revoking his self-imposed exile from television talk shows and print interviews and would resume speaking in public.
On Friday, a Milan court sentenced Berlusconi for what it said were millions of dollars in tax fraud connected to the buying and selling of rights to American television programs and movies. The sentence also barred Berlusconi from holding public office for five years. An appeal appeared certain, and he is not expected to go to prison any time soon.
After the court’s decision, the billionaire mogul said he had been the victim of “judicial persecution” and called the sentence “incredible, intolerable and political.”
Then, in a 45 minute-long off-the-cuff news conference Saturday in a red and gold brocade-covered hall at one of his villas in Lembo, near Milan, he laid out a series of reforms he would work to enact, including changes in the constitution and reversing the current government’s economic policies.
He didn’t say in what capacity, and analysts were perplexed as to what Berlusconi really had in mind.
Berlusconi told reporters and supporters that rather than spending his time and considerable fortune building hospitals for children in poor countries around the world as he had planned, he would fight for judicial reform “so no citizen has to go through what I have been through.”
He also had harsh words for the technocrat government led by economist Mario Monti, who was called to take over last November when Berlusconi was ousted.
He charged that Monti was merely following the “hegemonic” measures demanded by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and that the Italian economy was suffering the consequences.
Monti's government, he said, had enacted policies that have brought Italy to “a recessive spiral that seems never-ending” and that new anti-tax-evasion tactics were those of a “regime of fiscal extortion.”
-- Sarah DelaneyPhoto: Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi talks during a news conference near Milan on Saturday. Credit: Luca Bruno/Associated Press