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Berlusconi's tax fraud conviction upheld

ROME -- For the first time in decades of criminal prosecution, a conviction against former Premier Silvio Berlusconi finally stuck yesterday, leaving the media mogul with a 4-year prison sentence for tax fraud with all of his appeals exhausted.

But it's highly unlikely the man who long was Italy's most powerful politician will actually serve out the sentence behind bars. While upholding his tax fraud conviction, the supreme court ordered another court to recalculate the duration of a ban on holding public office set by lower courts at five years.

That could potentially reduce the time out of the limelight that threatens to interrupt, if not end, Berlusconi's political career, already tarnished by a sex scandal.

Berlusconi, who at 76 has dominated Italian politics for 20 years, remained defiant, if shaken. In a nine-minute video address, he denounced the sentence as "absolutely" baseless, saying it "deprives me of my freedom and political rights," and insisted he is the innocent victim of "an incredible series of accusations and trials that had nothing to do with reality." The three-time premier swung between anger and emotion, at times his voice breaking.

But he showed little signs of abandoning politics, pledging to revive Forza Italia, the movement he founded and which swept him into power as the unchallenged leader of Italy's conservatives.

Judge Antonio Esposito declared Berlusconi's conviction and prison term "irrevocable." But three years of his sentence will be shaved off as part of a general amnesty aimed at easing prison crowding. And elderly defendants usually can serve out their sentences under house confinement.

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