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Two decades of courtroom saga for Italy's Berlusconi

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

For two decades, legal troubles have haunted Italy's former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose conviction for tax fraud linked to his Mediaset business empire was upheld on Wednesday.

Berlusconi has never seen the inside of a prison cell, however, showing a knack for getting off the hook and prolonging trials so long that charges eventually expire under the statute of limitations.

It is unlikely the 76-year-old will ever go to prison since Italy has lenient sentencing guidelines for over-70s, who are given short prison terms.

Berlusconi says he has been unjustly victimised by left-wing prosecutors ever since he entered the political scene in the early 1990s but critics say he has used his influence to avoid punishment.

Here are the key dates in Berlusconi's legal saga:

- 1994: Put on trial for bribing tax police, Berlusconi is eventually convicted in 1997 and sentenced to 33 months in prison. The case is overturned on appeal.

- 1995: Berlusconi is accused of financing the purchase of a football player by his club AC Milan with a slush fund. The case expires in 2002, thanks to a law decriminalising false accounting passed by Berlusconi.

- 1995: Berlusconi is accused of tax fraud in the purchase of a luxury villa near Milan. The case expires under the statute of limitations.

- 1995: Accused of false accounting over his purchase of the cinema producers Medusa, Berlusconi is sentenced to 16 months in prison in 1997. He is acquitted on appeal in 2000.

- 1995: Berlusconi is charged with illegal party financing through an offshore company. He is convicted and sentenced to 28 months in prison in 1998 but the case runs out in 1999.

- 1998: The media magnate is accused of bribing a judge during Fininvest's buyout of the Mondadori publishing house. Though he is initially sentenced, the statute of limitations comes into play -- yet again saving the billionaire.

- 1998: Accused of bribing judges to block the buyout of food industry conglomerate SME by a business rival in 1985, the Milanese entrepreneur is acquitted by the supreme court in 2007.

- 2011: A trial opens in Milan in which Berlusconi is accused of having sex with an underage 17-year-old prostitute while he was prime minister and then pressuring police to have her released from custody when she was arrested for theft.

A verdict in the case is expected this month.

- 2012: Milan judges throw out a case, citing the statute of limitations, in which Berlusconi was accused of bribing his British tax lawyer David Mills to provide false testimony in his favour.

- 2012: Milan judges convict Berlusconi of tax fraud linked to his Mediaset business empire, sentencing him to a year in prison and handing him a five-year ban from holding public office.

This sentence was upheld on Wednesday.

- 2013: Berlusconi is sentenced to a year in prison over the publication of police wiretap transcripts in a newspaper he owned. The leak was aimed at discrediting a political rival.

Berlusconi is appealing the conviction.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130513/two-decades-courtroom-saga-italys-berlusconi