Silvio Berlusconi to begin community service

CESANO BOSCONE (TIP): Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi began community service for tax fraud on Friday in a spectacular fall from grace for the flamboyant expremier, who will likely seek political gain from the punishment. The billionaire tycoon, who was convicted last year and has been expelled from parliament, has been ordered to work once a week for up to a year as a volunteer in a hospice for Alzheimer’s patients just outside Milan.

The Catholic hospice in Cesano Boscone has stressed that it will not allow Berlusconi to use his stint for political grandstanding in front of the world’s media and will treat him like any other assistant. The disgraced politico, who has dominated Italian politics for two decades and is leading a campaign for European Parliament elections despite being barred from running, is expected to arrive at the hospice at 0745 GMT.

Massimo Restelli, head of the hospice’s care services, told the La Repubblica daily that Berlusconi’s introduction would be “gradual” so that he and the elderly patients can get used to each other. “It will be small steps so as not to make any mistakes. And then he could do all sorts of things. He could help with meals, which are tricky because sometimes you have to ‘remind’ the patient that they are eating,” he said.

“We ask everyone including Berlusconi to observe, to listen and not to get performance anxiety,” he said, adding that Berlusconi would be accompanied at all times by a medical worker specialized in Alzheimer’s. “We’ll see if Berlusconi’s presence creates some kind of close bond, if he is a reference for anyone. The guests do remember things, even if that seems absurd to people who do not know the illness,” he said.

Berlusconi himself has said in interviews that he has a “big surprise” in store and has hinted that this could involve a deeper commitment to Alzheimer’s sufferers. “I think in the end I will stay a lot longer than I have to. I have a big surprise prepared. It took me just 10 days to learn the different cure methods that can be used,” the 77-year-old told a radio show.

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Emilio Fede, a former television anchor who has been convicted of procuring prostitutes for Berlusconi, has said his friend is unperturbed by the community service. “Berlusconi is preparing carefully and is studying everything on Alzheimer’s. He will do it well and with humanity,” Fede said, adding that the service would be a tribute to Berlusconi’s late mother, Rosa.

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