ROME — A defiantly unabashed Silvio Berlusconi vowed Saturday to stay in politics to reform the very justice system that sentenced him to jail for tax fraud, as the Italian press declared an emphatic end to the billionaire former premier's long domination of the nation's political scene.
"I feel obliged to stay in the (political) field to reform the planet justice," the media tycoon told TG5, one of the television stations he runs, after branding Friday's verdict an "intolerable" political ruling.
"There are going to be consequences," declared 67-year-old three-time prime minister who first burst on to the Italian political scene almost two decades ago.
A Milan court on Friday sentenced Berlusconi to four years in jail -- quickly reduced to one year under an amnesty law designed to tackle overcrowding in prisons -- and banned him from holding public office for five years.
The three-time premier had announced on Wednesday that he would not run in the next election due in the spring but did not say he was withdrawing completely from political life.
He confirmed that he would not seek the job of premier later Saturday at a news conference at a villa his group owns at Lesmo, 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of Milan.
"I confirm my decision not to put forward my candidacy" for the post of prime minister, he said, although he will remain head of his party, the People of Freedom
"What I am accused of is pure science fiction," Berlusconi said.
"Between 2006 and 2010 I paid 5.44 billion euros ($7 billion)" in tax, he said, adding that he was one of the main taxpayers in Italy.
He said that he his treatment had been worse than seven scientists sentenced to six years in prison on Monday for failing to recommend safety measures before the 2009 L'Aquila earthquake, though he described their condemnation "real madness".
"They at least, were seated around a table to discuss the risks" while "I was prime minister, I had no power over the management of my group." He also pledged to campaign against the "dictatorship of judges."
Asked about the legitimacy of someone who had been convicted to lead a crusade to reform the justice system, he replied: "It is not only just, it is a duty for someone who enjoys the high esteem of millions of Italians" so "what is happening to me does not happen to the citizens of Italy."
Berlusconi also attacked his successor as prime minister, former European Commisioner Mario Monti, who is supported by his party, accusing him of following policies dictated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
His fighting talk came as the Italian press on Saturday declared that the Berlusconi era was at a definitive end, with one observer drawing a parallel to the fate of US gangster Al Capone.
Berlusconi's lawyers said they would lodge an appeal by November 10, and Italy's lengthy appeals process will likely enable him to stave off both prison and political banishment.
"And so ends a Titanic affair, born in television and finished in court, with a clear, very tough and above all insulting punishment," wrote centre-left daily La Repubblica's editor, Ezio Mauro, retracing Berlusconi's political trajectory from "supreme domination" to his "fall from grace and definitive decline".
"An entire generation of Italians born after 1975 will for the first time vote in elections next spring that are not a pro- or anti-Berlusconi referendum," said the influential daily La Stampa.
Left-leaning daily Il Fatto Quotidiano, which had waged war on Berlusconi's government during his three stints as prime minister between 1994 and 2011, ran a triumphant headline quoting the court's verdict that the media tycoon had a "natural capacity for delinquency".
The conviction "is the proof that Italy was governed for nine years by a tax cheat," said the paper.
"In the end he falls like Al Capone," Carlo Maria Pinardi, professor of finance at Milan's Bocconi University, told AFP, referring to notorious Chicago gangster who was finally jailed not for the many major crimes he committed but for tax fraud.
Pinardi played down the scale of Berlusconi's offences, saying that "many great Italian entrepreneurs have done worse, with the help of their tax advisers and accountants."
But "Berlusconi is finished. If the past, symbolised by this comic opera character, could be wiped out, the country would have much to gain", he said.
During the trial, which began six years ago but was repeatedly suspended, Berlusconi was accused of artificially inflating the price of distribution rights bought by his Mediaset empire and of creating foreign slush funds to avoid paying taxes in Italy.
The court also sentenced the media tycoon and 10 co-defendants to pay 10 million euros ($13 million) to Italian tax authorities.
"This is an incredible and intolerable political sentence. This is no doubt a political verdict, as political as all trials fabricated against me," post-war Italy's longest serving prime minister who also owns AC Milan football club said on Friday on his Italia 1 television channel.
Friday's sentence came a week after Berlusconi denied in a separate case that he hosted raunchy parties and paid for sex with then 17-year-old exotic dancer Karima El-Mahroug, better known as "Ruby the Heart Stealer".
The sex trial was one of the last in a series of scandals that helped precipitate Berlusconi's downfall in November 2011, which was finally triggered by a parliamentary revolt against him and a wave of panic on financial markets.
He was sentenced three times to a total six years and five months in prison in 1997 and 1998 for corruption, forgery and illegal party financing. The sentences were later scrapped by higher courts or fell under the statute of limitations.
Italian media and judicial officials widely expect the statute of limitations to kick in as soon as next year, which would imply that higher appeal courts will not even have to take on the case.
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