Berlusconi's Forza Italia moves into opposition

ROME (AP) — Silvio Berlusconi pulled his Forza Italia party's support from the government on Tuesday, the eve of a Senate vote to kick the media magnate out of Parliament because of his tax fraud conviction.

Berlusconi had said he would move into the opposition if the Senate votes to strip him of his seat. The vote is scheduled for Wednesday and most analysts expect he will lose his seat. With the vote looming, the head of Forza Italia in the lower Chamber of Deputies, Renato Brunetta, told reporters Tuesday that "the conditions no longer exist for Forza Itaila to remain in the majority."

The stability of the government of President Enrico Letta wasn't expected to be affected in the short term; Letta can still count on the support of lawmakers who split with three-time premier Berlusconi earlier this month and formed a new center-right party.

But Letta will see just what his new numbers are in a confidence vote on the annual budget that was being held overnight. Berlusconi was convicted last year over the purchase of rights to broadcast U.S. movies on his Mediaset empire through a series of offshore companies that involved the false declaration of payments to avoid taxes. His defense argued that he was busy in politics at the time and no longer involved in managing the day-to-day activities of the business.

Italy's high court upheld the conviction and four-year prison sentence on Aug. 1. The Senate vote is based on a 2012 law that bans anyone sentenced to more than two years in prison from holding or running for public office for six years.

Berlusconi's lawyers have argued the 2012 law can't be applied retroactively to crimes allegedly committed before it was passed. They have denounced the insistence of Berlusconi's opponents to go ahead with the vote before the European Court of Human Rights weighs in on whether the 2012 law violates European norms.

Berlusconi's lawyers, Niccolo Ghedini and Franco Coppi, told reporters Tuesday they were considering whether to ask an appeals court in Brescia to reopen the case in light of the new evidence they had just received: affidavits from witnesses saying Berlusconi had nothing to do with the film deals. Coppi said that Italian law allows for such a review, even after the high court has handed down its judgment, if the defendant believes that justice hasn't been served.

Ghedini stressed that the recourse was a hypothesis, and that no decision had been made. Regardless, Coppi said, it would take months to prepare the paperwork, which includes some 15,000 pages of documentation from Hong Kong, some of it in Chinese.

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