Berlusconi begins community service at Alzheimer's ward

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 09: Silvio Berlusconi leaves the Fondazione Sacra Famiglia on May 9, 2014 in Milan, Italy. Today Silvio Berlusconi starts his community service for tax fraud at Fondazione Sacra Famiglia in Cesano Boscone. (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
Pier Marco Tacca, Getty Images

CESANO BOSCONE, Italy -- Former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi carried out his first four-hour community service stint Friday, observing work on an Alzheimer's ward as part of a tax fraud sentence.

Berlusconi, dressed casually in a dark jacket but no tie, entered and departed the sprawling Sacra Famiglia center for the elderly and infirm in a dark sedan, making no public statements. Dozens of journalists were kept behind barricades during his stay, while occasionally patients from other wards were accompanied by family members on strolls nearby.

While the three-time former premier was heckled on arrival by a lone union protester who said he should instead be at a nearby prison, a supporter waved down his car as he left the premises.

"Thank you, thank you," Berlusconi told the woman, who leaned into the premier's car. He told journalists who asked how it went that he was asked not to make statements.

Berlusconi, 77, was ordered to perform four hours of community service a week after his four-year sentence was reduced to one by a general amnesty.

He also lost his Senate seat due to the conviction, but remains an important political force as head of his Forza Italia party. The court's order permits him flexibility to campaign for the upcoming European elections, but only in the northern Lombard region and around Rome, where he can travel from Tuesday to Thursday.

Courts have warned that he could be put under house arrest if he insults the judicial system during his sentence, and the Sacra Famiglia administrators have barred any campaigning on grounds.

Berlusconi has promised surprises during his service - and told private radio on Thursday that he has been studying the latest treatments for Alzheimer's disease "to give nurses a way to be able to do more."

Still, Sacra Famiglia's director has said his integration into the routine will be gradual. He spent the first day observing work in the two-story structure that houses the Alzheimer's patients, accompanied by the director of the residential unit.

During his community service, Berlusconi is scheduled to arrive after breakfast during a period of recreation, where caregivers assist in activities that can include playing music for the patients. Lunch follows, but it is unlikely Berlusconi will help feed patients, at least at first. Then there is a period of rest, during which many patients return to their rooms.

"Silvio Berlusconi won't have an office. He won't perform activities that are fun and relaxing," Sacra Familia director Paolo Pigni told reporters last week.