Berlusconi's political future debated in Senate
ROME (AP) -- An Italian parliamentary committee begins debating Monday whether ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi should be stripped of his Senate seat following his conviction for tax fraud.
Berlusconi has already threatened to bring down Premier Enrico Letta's unusual left-right government if the Senate committee votes to kick him out of parliament. His People of Freedom party is a crucial part of Letta's coalition.
No decision is expected Monday, as the committee's deliberations are expected to extend well beyond the first session.
Last month, Italy's highest criminal court upheld Berlusconi's conviction for tax fraud, his four-year prison term and his ban from public office. Berlusconi was found guilty of artificially inflating the amounts paid for film rights by his Mediaset empire to reduce the company's tax liabilities.
The Senate's deliberations aren't based on that sentence but rather on a 2012 law that says anyone sentenced to more than two years in prison is ineligible to hold public office for six years.
Berlusconi, his allies and his lawyers have challenged the constitutionality of the law, saying in his case it would amount to a retroactive penalty -- something forbidden by both the Italian constitution and the European convention on human rights.
Over the weekend, Berlusconi's lawyers filed a motion with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, seeking its intervention before the Senate committee takes a vote.
Letta's center-left Democratic Party says the 2012 law must be applied, and that Berlusconi's challenge is simply another last-ditch effort to save himself from his own legal woes.
Still, a top Democratic Party member and even Italy's justice minister have said the constitutionality of the 2012 law could be reviewed by Italy's Constitutional Court, given that several legal scholars have questioned whether the ban on public office could be applied to a crime that occurred years before the law was passed.
Letta, for his part, has tried to sound confident that Berlusconi's allies won't yank the party's support for his government.
"I think they won't leave the coalition," Letta told the British Broadcasting Corp.
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