Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (File photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
ROME -- Italy's flamboyant former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, was sentenced Friday to four years in prison for tax fraud, but is likely to appeal the Milan court's ruling.
The trial, which involved 10 members of his Mediaset television group, concerned the purchase of TV rights for films which were then resold within the group.
Prosecutors argued that the scheme allowed those involved to avoid a major tax bill. They may have to pay a fine of up to €10 million ($12.9 million), if the court's ruling is upheld.
Under the Italian legal system, Berlusconi and the Mediaset executives have the right to appeal their sentence twice, in the appeal court and a higher court.
Also, because the case dates back to July 2006, the statute of limitations will expire next year, meaning there is a good chance that Berlusconi and his fellow defendants will never serve any prison time.
Berlusconi, 76, resigned as prime minister last November amid his country's debt crisis, bringing to an apparent end an 18-year era in which he dominated Italian politics.
He had survived a series of political, corruption and sex scandals over the years, involving allegations of embezzlement, tax fraud and bribery.
He also currently faces trial on charges that he hired an underage prostitute and later tried to pull strings to get her out of jail when she was arrested for theft.
The woman involved in that long-running case is the dancer Karima el Mahroug, nicknamed "Ruby the Heart-stealer."