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Lover keeps house running as Berlusconi faces charity stint

AFP-JIJI

With his girlfriend keeping a lid on costs at home, Italy’s star convict, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, is preparing to apply to do community service for a tax fraud conviction that is shaking up politics.

Francesca Pascale said Berlusconi’s staffers have been buying green beans at an extortionate €80 ($108) per kilogram and regularly bringing in crates of fish, even though he does not eat it.

“It needed a woman in the house,” the 28-year-old former shopkeeper, who claims she started pursuing Berlusconi when she was just a teenager, said in the gossip weekly Oggi.

“When I started living with him, I found an unacceptable situation. I did what had to be done, a bit of a cleanup,” said Pascale, a constant presence at Berlusconi’s side — along with his pet poodle, Dudu — during his recent legal woes.

“We are anxious. We no longer sleep,” she said.

Italy’s Supreme Court on Aug. 1 turned down Berlusconi’s final appeal, handing the billionaire tycoon his first definitive criminal conviction in a long history of legal trouble.

The conviction for tax fraud is also expected to get Berlusconi expelled from his Senate seat this month.

The sentence of four years in prison was commuted to one year because of an amnesty in place, and because Berlusconi is over the age of 70 he will not have to do actual jail time.

Berlusconi’s lawyers now have to make a formal request by Tuesday on whether he wants to do his 12 months as community service or house arrest.

One of his lawyers, Franco Coppi, has said that an application for community service is more likely — a choice to be announced in the coming days.

Charities around Italy — from a clown-therapy workshop to a dog pound — have jokingly requested Berlusconi come and do his stint with them.

While he can indicate where he would like to work, the final choice is up to a court in Rome, where Berlusconi is resident. First a Milan court must approve the application.

“The person requesting community service usually names several organizations so as to avoid finding themselves cleaning toilets in the railway station,” a source close to Berlusconi’s defense said.

Berlusconi had earlier rejected the idea of community service as worthy of a “common criminal.”

But experts say it is the option that will give him the most freedom since under the rules of house arrest in Italy, the criminal has to make a specific request for every movement outside.

The charity seen as the most likely choice for Berlusconi is the Italian Center for Solidarity in Rome which helps former drug addicts.

Berlusconi’s friend Cesare Previti, a former defense minister in one of the three-time prime minister’s governments, did his community service at the center when he was convicted of corruption.

The prospect of seeing Berlusconi stacking supermarket shelves or cleaning up graffiti is improbable — also because as a former prime minister, he has to travel with a large retinue of bodyguards.

Some media have also mentioned the possibility of him working for an organization that campaigns against the death penalty around the world.

The group is linked to the Radical Party, which is calling for an overhaul of Italy’s justice system — a subject very close to Berlusconi’s heart.

In any case, there could be a very long wait.

Sources said Berlusconi’s punishment may not come for weeks or even as late as early 2014 because of the procedural delays. The one-year sentence can also be cut to nine months for good behavior.

“If he was any other convict, the court would hold a hearing between January and March 2014 to take a decision,” the source said, although for such a high-profile case it is more difficult to predict.