February 2, 2015 / 2:42 PM / 3 years ago

Italy's Berlusconi allowed to end community service sentence early

Il leader di Forza Italia Silvio Berlusconi.Stefano Rellandini

MILAN (Reuters) - Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was granted a request on Monday to end his community service sentence for tax fraud 45 days early for good behaviour, making him a free agent from early next month.

Last year, the 78-year-old media magnate had a four-year jail sentence commuted into an order to spend four hours a week for a year at a centre for Alzheimer's patients, restricting his movements and political activities.

Berlusconi's petition to have the sentence reduced was filed last month and approved on Monday by Milan judge Beatrice Crosti, over the objection of prosecutors, legal sources said.

From March 8, the four-time prime minister, still the most influential politician in Italy's centre-right, will get his passport back and no longer have any restriction on his movement.

Berlusconi's conviction cost him his seat in the Senate and prevented him from running for election for six years, restrictions that he is still battling to have removed.

He has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and is also hoping for a legislative reprieve from Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, with whom he has been working closely to draft electoral and constitutional reforms.

A political storm blew up last month when Italian media discovered a last-minute government amendment to a tax bill that would have de-criminalised balance sheet fraud for any sum below 3 percent of a company's annual income.

The amendment would have wiped out Berlusconi's conviction and meant he was once more eligible for office.

Renzi backed down after an outcry from much of his own centre-left Democratic Party but, rather than just scrap the amendment, he put the whole bill on ice and said he would review it at the end of this month.

Reporting by Manuela D'Alessandro, writing by Danilo Masoni and Gavin Jones; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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