MILAN (AP) -- A court in Milan Friday convicted former Premier Silvio Berlusconi of tax fraud and sentenced the media mogul to four years in prison, his first prison sentence in years of criminal probes.
The 76-year-old billionaire businessman won't go to prison right away. In Italy, cases must pass two levels of appeal before the verdicts are final.
Berlusconi received a suspended sentence in 1997 for false bookkeeping, but that conviction was reversed on appeal. Other criminal investigation probes against him on charges including corruption had ended in acquittal or were thrown out for statute of limitations.
Earlier in the week, Berlusconi had announced he wouldn't run for a fourth term. He was forced to resign a year ago in Italy's debt crisis. He wasn't in the courtroom. His lawyers declined to make immediate comment, but he is expected to appeal.
Berlusconi's designated political heir as the head of the center-right party he leads, Angelino Alfano, blasted the verdict as "incomprehensible" and said he is confident an appeals court would throw out the conviction.
In this and other cases against him, Berlusconi has described himself as the innocent victim of prosecutors he contends sympathize with the left.
Berlusconi, along with other defendants convicted in the case, must deposit a total of 10 million euros ($13 million) into a court-ordered fund while appeals, which could take years, proceed.
Prosecutors alleged that the defendants were behind a scheme to purchase the rights to broadcast U.S. movies on Berlusconi's private TV networks in his Mediaset empire through a series of offshore companies and had falsely declared the payments to avoid taxes.
A total of 11 people were on trial.
Three were acquitted, including a close associate of Berlusconi, Fedele Confalonieri, chairman of Mediaset. Berlusconi and three others were convicted, including a Hollywood producer, Frank Agrama, who received a three-year sentence.
Four defendants were cleared because statute of limitations had run out.
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