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Silvio Berlusconi sentenced to four years in prison

AC Milan’s miserable season got even worse today with the news that owner Silvio Berlusconi has been sentenced to four years in prison and will be forced to pay part of a €10m fine for tax evasion.

The verdict was delivered by a Milan court on Friday afternoon, six years after the trial which looked at the activity of his Mediaset TV company, originally began.

The court found that Berlusconi and 10 co-defendants were behind a scheme by Mediaset to purchase the rights to broadcast American films on his private television networks through a series of offshore companies, and had falsely declared the payments to avoid taxes.

Prosecutors said that they inflated the price for the TV rights of some 3,000 films as they re-licensed them internally to Berlusconi’s networks, pocketing the difference that amounted to 250 million euros.

Other charges of false accounting and false statements in financial reports were thrown out because the statute of limitations expired.

The trial began in July 2006, but was put on hold by a now-defunct immunity law that shielded Berlusconi from prosecution while he was premier, until it was watered down by the constitutional court.

Legal cases in Italy must pass two levels of appeal before any verdict is made final. The statue of limitations rule on this case expires in 2013.

Berlusconi is expected to appeal, which will drag this case on even longer.