Italy’s Berlusconi expected in court for tax trial


Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is expected to be in court to face the latest in a series of trials over the coming weeks on charges ranging from tax fraud to paying for sex with a minor.

Monday’s trial centres on charges that Berlusconi’s Mediaset broadcasting empire bought TV and film rights at inflated prices through offshore front companies, leaving the difference to be skimmed off to avoid tax and create secret slush funds.

Both Mediaset and Berlusconi deny the charges and lawyers for the prime minister, who attended a related hearing on March 28, said last week he would be in the Milan court where judges are expected to question some Defence witnesses, Reuters reports.

He has dismissed opposition calls to resign and, after overcoming a damaging party split last year, appears to have the numbers in parliament to see out the remainder of his term which is due to end in 2013.

The Mediaset trial is one of a related series of three trials, all linked to the sale of television and film rights dating back to the 1990s.

It is not related to the more sensational “Rubygate” case in which the prime minister is accused of paying for sex with a teenaged nightclub dancer when she was under the age of 18 and thus too young under Italian law to be paid as a prostitute.

Berlusconi, who has faced at least a dozen trials over the years, denies all charges against him and says he has been victimised by leftist magistrates who are using the legal system to bring him down.

His government has been pushing through legislation to curb the powers of the magistrates, prompting critics to accuse him of trying to pass specially tailored laws that would allow him to escape trial altogether.

The trials were effectively suspended by a measure introduced by his own government which allowed him to claim that his official duties meant that he did not have enough time to prepare his Defence and that he could therefore claim immunity from trial while in office.

The measure was lifted by a constitutional court ruling in January, prompting magistrates to re-open the fraud trials and bring the prostitution case to court.