Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who describes himself as the persecuted man in history, was found guilty of tax fraud and sentenced to four years in prison in a film-rights case involving his Mediaset SpA television company.

It is unlikely that Berlusconi will serve any jail time given his age, 76, and the Italian appeals process, which can run out the statute of limitations. The court pardoned three years of the sentence. He was also barred from public office for a period of time, according to a sentence read today by a judge in Milan.

The ruling came in the same week that the three-time prime minister announced that he would not run for the premiership in elections due by May. Berlusconi has accused prosecutors of trying to destroy him politically and has said that he has spent more than 400 million euros ($517 million) on his legal defense since he entered politics in 1994.

Shares in Mediaset SpA, Berlusconi’s media company at the center of the case, fell 2.8 percent to 1.34 euros. That compared with an advance of 0.2 percent in Italy’s benchmark FTSE MIB index.

The ruling comes as Berlusconi faces another trial on charges of paying for sex with a minor. The revelations about his relationship with a 17-year-old Milan nightclub dancer and the so-called Bunga Bunga parties he threw at his Milan residence led to a slump in his popularity last year that contributed to his resignation as prime minister in November.

Berlusconi can appeal the verdict two more times under Italian law.

Fedele Confalonieri, chief executive officer of Mediaset and a co-defendant in the trial, was absolved by the court.


Bloomberg News