Italian Senate votes to expel Berlusconi

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berlusconiRome (CNN) — The Italian Senate voted Wednesday to expel former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi from parliament after his conviction for tax fraud. The vote was 192 to 113, with two abstentions.

Analysts had predicted his ouster, with both the center-leftDemocratic Party and anti-establishment Five-Star Movement promising to vote against the billionaire media tycoon.

The vote follows Berlusconi’s conviction on charges related to a vast tax fraud conspiracy at his Mediaset television empire.

The 77-year-old, who has dominated Italian politics for two decades, pulled his Forza Italia party out of Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s ruling coalition Tuesday after seven months in government.

Berlusconi was sentenced to four years in jail — commuted to a year of community service — and was banned from holding public office for two years, preventing any immediate return to government.

Under a law passed with his support last year, politicians convicted of serious criminal offenses are ineligible for parliament, but an expulsion must first be confirmed by a vote in the Senate.

The former PM had called on his supporters to protest in Rome ahead of the vote. He even asked senators to delay the ballot, claiming to have new evidence proving he did not commit tax fraud.

Berlusconi, who served on and off as prime minister between 1994 and 2011, has dominated the lively Italian political scene for the past two decades. Despite his expulsion from parliament, he is unlikely to disappear.

“He is not out of politics, he is out of government,” James Walston, chairman of the International Relations Department at the American University of Rome, told CNN. “He will cease being Sen. Berlusconi.”

It’s likely that Berlusconi will remain a troublesome opponent for the government. Former comedian Beppe Grillo, of the Five Star movement, does not sit in parliament but is a regular vocal critic.

However, the former Prime Minister could face other headaches. The expulsion from parliament means losing a partial immunity senators hold from prosecution, and he could face charges in other cases. For years, he has also been entangled in fraud, corruption and sex scandals that have often reached the Italian courts.

At a news conference Tuesday, Berlusconi’s lawyers dismissed as “an absolutely unreal possibility” that once his parliamentary immunity is lifted, he may face arrest for other cases.

Berlusconi was convicted of tax fraud in October last year over deals involving Mediaset, and the verdict was upheld in August.

He threatened to topple the coalition government over the issue this year but backed down during a confidence vote. He has dismissed the Senate, dominated largely by his political opponents, as being biased against him.

It’s unlikely that Berlusconi’s expulsion from parliament will have an immediate impact on Letta’s government, which survived a confidence vote on the 2014 budget Tuesday with the help of a group of center-right senators who broke away from Forza Italia.

However, Italy’s political wranglings cast a further shadow on the eurozone’s third-largest economy, which is grappling with recession, debt and high youth unemployment.

-CNN

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