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Silvio Berlusconi sentenced to community service at old people's home near Milan for tax fraud

The ex-Prime Minister's sentence will see him spending four hours a week helping senior citizens

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is to complete community service by helping senior citizens at an old people’s home for a year, after he was convicted of tax fraud.

A Milan court ruled that the 77-year-old will spend four hours a week helping elderly people in the Lombard region where he lives.

While his conviction means he cannot run in the upcoming Italian elections, as head of the Forza Italia party he remains influential in the country’s politics.

As the ruling permits him to travel to Rome each week from Tuesday to Thursday and come and go from his respective residences in Roma and Milan between 6am and 11pm, he is effectively free to participate in political campaigns.

"If he can meet everybody, that is pretty much what he is doing now," said Roberto D'Alimonte, a political scientist at Rome's LUISS University. "Four hours a week community service is peanuts."

D'Alimonte said the court clearly made the concession "taking into account that he is the leader of a major political force."

However, Mr Berlusconi's lawyers, who argued he be given community service rather than the more restrictive house arrest called the assignment “balanced” also in regard to Berlusconi's political activity.

On Tuesday, Mr Berlusconi was meeting members of his party to determine candidates for the upcoming May elections.

The former premier was initially given a four-year sentence for tax fraud by Italy's highest court last summer, but this was reduced to one year under a general amnesty to ease overcrowding in Italian prisons. But given Berlusconi's age and the relatively short sentence, prison time was never likely. He was, however, booted from the Senate and given a two-year ban on running for elected office.

The centre where the ex-Prime Minister will work is the Sacred Heart institute of Cesano Boscone, near Milan, according to Italian media.

Its manager, Paolo Pigni, confirmed he had registered the centre’s willingness to work with Berlusconi to the court, and expects confirmation of the assignment in the coming days. 

Pigni said Berlusconi would be assisting professionals helping the elderly, and that he hoped that the media interest stirred by Berlusconi's presence "won't be an excessive distraction to the inhabitants."

Berlusconi is still on trial for alleged political corruption in Naples and under investigation in Milan in connection with allegations of witness tampering in trials relating to sex parties at his villa near Milan

His appeal in relation to a conviction for having paid for sex with an underage prostitute is scheduled to open in June.

At the original trial, he was sentenced to seven years in jail and given a lifetime political ban, but that has yet to be confirmed.

Additional reporting by AP