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Italy court sentences ex-premier Berlusconi to 4 years in prison

Giorgio Cosulich / Getty Images file

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, shown here in April 2011, was sentenced Friday to four years in prison.

Updated at 11:40 a.m. ET: MILAN -- An Italian court on Friday convicted former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of tax evasion and sentenced him to four years in prison.

But the verdict did not mean that Berlusconi will go to prison anytime soon.

In Italy, cases must pass two levels of appeal before the verdicts are final. Berlusconi is expected to appeal. He will not have to serve any time in jail until his final appeal is heard.

Still, the conviction Friday was significant because it was the media mogul's first prison sentence in years of criminal probes.

The verdict was almost certainly the final nail in the 76-year-old’s political coffin, two days after he announced he would not run for premier in upcoming elections.

Berlusconi was not in the courtroom for the verdict.

Berlusconi, along with other defendants convicted in the case, must deposit a total of €10 million ($13 million) into a court-ordered fund appeals, which could take years, proceed.

Berlusconi stepped down as prime minister last November after Italy came under mounting market pressure to deal with its high debt load and Berlusconi failed to come up with persuasive financial reforms.

Scheme involved rights to U.S. movies
Prosecutors alleged that the defendants were behind a scheme to purchase the rights to broadcast U.S. movies on Berlusconi's private TV networks in his Mediaset empire through a series of offshore companies and had falsely declared the payments to avoid taxes.

A total of 11 people were on trial.

Three were acquitted, including a close associate of Berlusconi, Fedele Confalonieri, chairman of Mediaset. Berlusconi and three others were convicted, including a Hollywood producer, Frank Agrama, who received a three-year sentence.

Four defendants were cleared because statute of limitations had run out.

Not the first Italian PM to be convicted
Berlusconi is not the first former Italian premier to be convicted of criminal charges.

From April: 'Burlesconi' sex scandal comes full circle

Former Socialist Premier Bettino Craxi eluded an arrest warrant and turned up at his villa in Tunisia in 1994 after a court in Italy charged him in a massive corruption case. He was tried in absentia, convicted and sentenced to 8 1/2 years in prison, never returned to Italy and died in exile. Craxi was considered Berlusconi's mentor thanks to his opening to private television in Italy from a state monopoly.

Former seven-time Christian Democrat premier, Giulio Andreotti, was convicted of involvement in a Mafia-murder. But he was cleared on appeal and never went to jail.

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In the same courthouse on Friday, another criminal trial against Berlusconi was held. He is charged in that case with paying for sex with an under-age teenager and trying to cover it up. He denies wrongdoing.

Berlusconi has been tried numerous times for his business dealings. He has always denied wrongdoing and alleged that the cases were politically motivated. In each case to date, he has been cleared or seen the statute of limitations expire.

NBC's Claudio Lavanga, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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