Silvio Berlusconi
Silvio Berlusconi (Reuters)

Italy's former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has been sentenced to one year in jail for leaking the contents of a wiretapped phone call to Il Giornale, a conservative newspaper owned by his brother Paolo.

The wiretap, in 2005, concerned a political rival, the former leader of the Democratic Party, Piero Fassino.

The conversation took place between Fassino and the head of insurer Unipol, who was trying to take over BNL bank. Judges had ordered the wiretap as part of a probe into inappropriate interference in the takeover.

The publication of the transcript by Il Giornale broke secrecy rules and Berlusconi was accused of obtaining the transcript from the wiretap company used by the judges.

Berlusconi denied any wrongdoing and claimed he was the target of revenge by politically biased prosecutors.

Paolo Berlusconi has been sentenced to two years and three months on the same charge.

Berlusconi, who is also facing charges of underage prostitution and exaction (bribery), will not go to jail despite the latest ruling as he is likely to appeal all the way to the supreme court.

He cannot be put behind bars while the appeal process is going through, which suspends the sentence under Italian law. Until then, he is free to participate in a new government.

In addition, in Italy people aged over 75 sentenced to less than two years do not have to go to prison.

Another ruling is expected later this month on tax fraud charges. In October, the 76-year-old media mogul was convicted in another tax fraud case and sentenced to a year in jail. That conviction is going through an appeal.