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The prosecution – which focuses on false book-keeping among other issues – followed his use of Finarte money to try to keep afloat a basketball team in Milan, Napoli football club, and also to buy the San Gregorio abbey in Venice.

In a separate case Corbelli has also been handed a further 42 months for fraudulent bankruptcy with regard to Napoli.

This is not Corbelli’s first brush with the law. In 2002, he and some associates were arrested concerning the sale of 300 fake paintings sold through his Telemarket TV shopping channel. After a long legal battle, they were eventually found not guilty at the end of last year.

Corbelli began his rise in 1982, launching first Telemarket and then Telemarket 2, TV channels dedicated to selling art and jewellery to the masses. (He now uses the channels to sell art unsold in Finarte sales to the public, click here for previous story).

He subsequently acquired Semenzato of Venice and a shareholding in Finarte, Italy’s leading auction house, which is quoted on the Milan stock market, before merging the two into a short-lived single entity, ousting Semenzato père et fils, who set up their own auction house, San Marco, and the Porro family, who had built up Finarte (and who also set up its own auction house, Porro).

The late 1980s saw Corbelli’s entry into the world of basketball (big business in Italy), and in 2000 he bought Napoli football club, but dropped it hastily when he became entangled in legal problems.

Such is Italian law that being handed a jail sentence is no guarantee that he will actually ever set foot in a jail.

Appeals on appeals, limits of statutes and so on may well assist him, as, in recent years, they have assisted prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

By Lucian Comoy