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Former Berlusconi powerbroker found guilty of graft, faces jail time

FILE PHOTO: Italy's Parliament member Denis Verdini hugs Forza Italia party member Mariarosaria Rossi at the Senate in Rome, Italy December 7, 2016. REUTERS/Remo Casilli/File Photo

ROME (Reuters) - Denis Verdini, for years one of the closest advisers to former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, was sentenced to 6-1/2 years in prison on Tuesday by Italy’s supreme court in a graft case tied to the collapse of a bank.

The trial revolved around Credito Cooperativo Fiorentino, a bank where Verdini served as chairman for 20 years. Prosecutors said he used the lender to build up a powerbase that helped him prosper in politics, offering loans to friends and associates without proper guarantees – loans that ultimately led to the bank failing in 2010.

Verdini, 69, denied the charges but Tuesday’s verdict marked the end of the long appeals process and he will likely go to jail.

Verdini was a prominent member of Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party but unexpectedly switched sides in 2015 to help ensure the-then centre-left Prime Minister Matteo Renzi could muster a parliamentary majority.

He left parliament at the last election in 2018, but his family has stayed in the limelight because his daughter is the partner of Matteo Salvini, the head of Italy’s most popular party, the far-right League.

“The (Credito Cooperativo Fiorentino) was used to create a personal power system. It essentially made Verdini become the person he became,” an experienced prosecutor involved in several investigations into the senator told Reuters.

Reporting by Domenico Lusi and Crispian Balmer, Editing by Angus MacSwan