ROME -- Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was given a one-year jail sentence Thursday for breach of confidentiality after the publication of illegally obtained wiretaps by a newspaper controlled by his family.
Berlusconi remains free pending appeals, and it’s considered unlikely that the jail sentence will ever be enforced.
But the verdict by a Milan court adds to a mounting number of legal tangles faced by Berlusconi, whose political coalition came in second in elections last month. Talks are due to start this month on forming a new Italian government.
On March 23, a verdict is expected in Berlusconi’s first appeal of a four-year sentence handed down in October for fraud, while a verdict in his trial for allegedly paying an underage dancer for sex is due March 18.
He is also being investigated for allegedly paying three million euros to a senator to defect to his party, which helped bring down the center-left government of Romano Prodi in 2008. Berlusconi denies all wrongdoing in the cases.
In the wiretapping trial, prosecutors alleged that in 2005 an official at a company employed by Italian investigators to bug a political foe of Berlusconi’s took a politically embarrassing wiretap and played it to Berlusconi and his brother Paolo, breaking the law on confidentiality.
The transcript of the wiretap was published in Il Giornale, a newspaper that supports Berlusconi's political career and is owned by his brother Paolo. On Thursday, Paolo Berlusconi received a sentence of two years and three months.
In the wiretap, Piero Fassino, the then-head of the center-left Democratic Left party, was speaking to Giovanni Consorte, the former chairman of Unipol, an insurer with close ties to the Democratic Left.
Unipol was seeking to take over the Italian bank Banca Nazionale del Lavoro at the time, and Fassino was recorded saying, “We have a bank,” a comment that drew criticism when it was published in Il Giornale.
"This is a sentence that reestablishes truth and justice, and it confirms that a campaign of political vilification and delegitimization was deliberately created for years around an ironic expression," Fassino said.
Berlusconi has long claimed that Italian magistrates are waging a political campaign to destroy him. On Thursday he said, "It's truly impossible to tolerate judicial persecution like this, which has lasted 20 years and revs up every time there are particularly complex moments in the country's political life.”