ROME, Aug 13 (Reuters) - President Giorgio Napolitano said on Tuesday a tax fraud conviction against Silvio Berlusconi could not be reversed and issued a stern warning against any attempt to bring down the Italian government over the issue.
Napolitano's statement that the law must take its course dashed hopes in Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party that the head of state would find a way to allow the former prime minister to fully continue his leadership of the centre-right.
"Any definitive sentence, and the consequent obligation of applying it, cannot but be taken into account," Napolitano said in a statement in which he warned against a "fatal" crisis in the fragile left-right coalition government of Prime Minister Enrico Letta.
The supreme court early this month confirmed a four-year jail sentence - commuted to one year - for tax fraud at Berlusconi's Mediaset mbedia empire. Napolitano noted that Berlusconi would be expected to serve the sentence under house arrest or doing community service because of his age.
Napolitano did not totally rule out pardoning the 76-year-old media mogul but said he could only do so in very restricted circumstances and he had not received the formal request from Berlusconi that was necessary before he could even consider it.
He said a crisis in Letta's three-month old government would be "fatal" at time when Italy is mired in its worst postwar recession.
"It is understandable that there would emerge, especially in the PDL, anxiety and worry over the definitive conviction of a person who has led the government...and who remains the undisputed leader of an undeniably important political group," the president said.
But he urged the PDL to prioritise the interests of the country while considering how to deal with the conviction of its leader.