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Founder of Italy's Northern League found guilty in fraud case

FILE PHOTO: Italy's Northern League former leader Umberto Bossi addresses the audience during the Northern League rally in Bergamo, Italy April 10, 2012. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo

MILAN (Reuters) - Umberto Bossi, the founder of Italy’s opposition Northern League, was found guilty on Monday of illegally using party funds to pay for family expenses and sentenced to two years and three months in jail.

The court in Italy’s financial capital Milan also gave Bossi’s son, Renzo, an 18-month prison term, while former League Treasurer Francesco Belsito was sentenced to two years, six months behind bars.

A close ally of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, Bossi and his fellow defendants have always denied wrongdoing. A second son, Riccardo, was tried separately in the same case last year and received a 20-month term.

It was not immediately clear if they would appeal.

Bossi, 75, resigned as League leader in 2012 following accusations that party funds had been diverted to pay for the personal expenses of the Bossi family, including travel, dinners, education fees, hotel accommodation and expensive cars.

Although he is no longer in front-line politics, Bossi remains an influential figure and has clashed with the League’s new leader, Matteo Salvini, accusing him of dragging the party away from its northern roots in an effort to widen its appeal.

Reporting by Ilaria Polleschi; Editing by Alison Williams