MILAN (Reuters) - Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has formally asked to do a year of community service rather than be jailed or put under house arrest after his conviction for tax fraud, a legal source said on Friday.
The center-right leader, 77, was sentenced to four years in jail in August, commuted to one, for masterminding a massive tax fraud scheme at his Mediaset television empire.
Because of his age he is considered certain to be allowed to stay out of prison, making either house arrest or community service the most likely ways that he would serve his sentence.
Criminals assigned to community service normally work in non-profit organizations such as soup kitchens for the homeless, centers for drug addicts or groups offering assistance to the elderly. The legal source, who is involved in the case, did not say which type of community service Berlusconi had requested.
It is not automatic that his request will be granted and legal experts say the hearing to decide will probably not take place for at least four months and possibly longer.
Under Italy's notoriously slow legal system, Berlusconi is therefore unlikely to begin his sentence until early 2014.
He will not serve it at all if his crimes are included in legislation that parliament is working on to pardon thousands of criminals in response to an appeal by President Giorgio Napolitano to ease overcrowding in prisons.
It was on the basis of previous legislation to ease prison overcrowding, passed in 2006, that Berlusconi's four-year sentence was reduced to one year.
Berlusconi, who also faces a ban from public office and expulsion from his seat as a senator, has fiercely protested his innocence, saying he is a victim of politically motivated prosecutors and judges.
Some media reports had suggested he may insist on going to prison rather than be seen in any way to be reaching an accommodation with the justice system by requesting an alternative sentence.
(Reporting By Emilio Parodi; Writing by Gavin Jones; Editing by Pravin Char and Mike Collett-White)