Berlusconi's defense makes its final arguments

Associated Press
Italian Carabinieri, paramilitary policemen stand outside the Court of Cassation building where former premier Silvio Berlusconi's case on tax fraud will be decided, in Rome, Tuesday, July 30, 2013. Berlusconi's political fate is in the hands of Italy's highest court, which is preparing to hear arguments in the former premier's fraud conviction. Berlusconi has been convicted of tax fraud in a complex TV rights transaction for his Mediaset network, and sentenced to four-years in prison with a five-year ban on public office. This is his final appeal. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
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Italian Carabinieri, paramilitary policemen stand outside the Court of Cassation building where former premier Silvio Berlusconi's case on tax fraud will be decided, in Rome, Tuesday, July 30, 2013. Berlusconi's political fate is in the hands of Italy's highest court, which is preparing to hear arguments in the former premier's fraud conviction. Berlusconi has been convicted of tax fraud in a complex TV rights transaction for his Mediaset network, and sentenced to four-years in prison with a five-year ban on public office. This is his final appeal. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

ROME (AP) — Silvio Berlusconi's reinforced defense team made its final arguments Wednesday in front of Italy's highest court, seeking the reversal of a tax fraud conviction that could bring a quick halt to the three-time former premier's 20-year political career.

The highly anticipated decision could weaken the fragile coalition government of Enrico Letta, which is struggling to pass measures to help Italy out of recession. A decision could come later Wednesday or Thursday.

Berlusconi has urged supporters not to let the decision interfere with the government, but analysts warn that the situation is volatile and already center-right lawmakers slowed work in Parliament to protest the high court's decision to take the case in July instead of the fall.

Berlusconi and three others were convicted in October of tax fraud in the purchase of TV rights for Berlusconi's Mediaset network. Berlusconi was sentenced to four years in prison with a five-year ban on public office, which was confirmed on appeal.

If also confirmed by Italy's highest court, Berlusconi would lose his Senate seat and be banned from running in elections for the duration of any public office ban.

The state prosecutor on Tuesday recommended shortening the public office ban to three years — which Berlusconi defense lawyer Franco Coppi told reporters indicates a "blatant error" in the sentencing.

Berlusconi's defense team, long-time defender Niccolo Ghedini and Coppi, an appellate expert, began what was expected to be several hours of arguments late in the afternoon Wednesday. Earlier, defense lawyers for the other three defendants made their case.

At one point, chief justice Antonio Esposito grew impatient with the exhaustive arguments, telling a lawyer for one of the defendants: "We have read everything."

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