Berlusconi will stay in politics 'to reform judiciary'
Italian billionaire's change of heart follows judge handing down four-year jail sentence
SILVIO BERLUSCONI has vowed to remain in politics -- to reform the judiciary -- but said he would not seek to be Italian prime minister again.
Having awoken to find news of his conviction splashed across every Italian newspaper, along with photographs of him looking tired and dejected, he carried on fighting.
In an interview with Channel Five, one of the television stations he owns, Berlusconi said: "I feel obliged to remain in politics, in order to reform the judiciary so that what happened to me won't happen to other citizens."
The trial had been "absurd", the charges "science fiction" and the sentence "incredible", he insisted.
Berlusconi's surprise decision to remain in politics comes just three days after the four-time prime minister said he would not seek the premiership again, a pledge he repeated yesterday.
"There doubtless will be consequences," Berlusconi told an Italian television interviewer, referring to the conviction, which, however, will not be enforced until all appeals are exhausted -- a process that could take years.
Berlusconi was convicted of inflating the price paid for TV rights via offshore companies controlled by him and skimming off part of the money to create illegal slush funds.
The comments by Berlusconi -- who has gone back and forth many times in the past on his political future -- were met with derision by his foes and joy by some of his most fervent allies.
"Today's statement is different from yesterday's. We are waiting to see what tomorrow's will be like," said Gianfranco Fini, speaker of the lower house of parliament, who broke with Berlusconi after a bitter row that split the centre-right.
"I am happy that he has decided to stay in order to wave high the flag that guarantees freedom," said Daniela Santanche, a hardcore Berlusconi loyalist from the right-wing of his PDL party.
Last Wednesday, Berlusconi said he would not run in next year's elections as the leader of his People of Freedom (PDL) party.
The court sentence included a five-year ban on running for political office but since the sentence does not take effect until all appeals are exhausted, Berlusconi can run for parliament in the next national elections in April.
The 76-year-old billionaire media magnate, who was convicted three times during the Nineties in the first degree before being cleared by higher courts, has the right to appeal the ruling two more times before the sentence becomes definitive.
Berlusconi, who has often accused magistrates of waging a political war against him, insisted that Friday's sentence was no different. He accused the judge who handed down the sentence, Edoardo D'Avossa, of "having it in for me".
Judge D'Avossa ruled that between 2000 and 2003 there had been "a very significant amount of tax evasion" and "an incredible mechanism of fraud" in place around the buying and selling of broadcast rights by Mediaset, the group Berlusconi owns.
Berlusconi has taken a largely back-seat role in politics, but he remains the dominant figure within the PDL.