Berlusconi in court over tax fraud case

Italy's prime minister appears in court for tax fraud case relating to his Mediaset broadcasting empire.

    Silvio Berlusconi is involved in four court cases including a trial due to open next month over a sex scandal [Reuters]

    Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, has appeared at a court in Milan over allegations of tax fraud and breach of trust in his business interests.

    Prosecutors have accused the 74-year-old premier of fraud in the sale of film rights by his Mediaset company. The closed hearing on Monday, which saw Berlusconi in court for the first time in eight years, was to decide whether he should stand trial in the case.

    The prime minister, who waved to a crowd of reporters and supporters from his car en route to the courthouse, said the accusations against him are "ridiculous and unfounded" in an interview on one of Mediaset's channels.

    "The prosecutors have shown that they want to persecute me and they don't stop even in the face of facts and of ridiculousness," he said ahead of the hearing.

    Other cases

    Berlusconi said that the prosecutors see him as an "ideological and political enemy" and as "the obstacle preventing the left from gaining power".

    "I am the most accused person in history and in the universe," he said.

    "There are still people who use the legal code as an ideological tool and think that politicised judges can destroy an enemy who has been victorious in elections and has the strength of popular consensus."

    The case is one of four currently involving Berlusconi, with a trial due to open on April 6 that will see him stand to defend charges of having sex with an underage prostitute, and using his position to cover up the alleged crime.

    Berlusconi's immunity from trial was lifted by the country's constitutional court earlier this year, exposing him to the cases, of which three involve corruption and fraud allegations linked to his Mediaset broadcasting empire.

    He last appeared in court in June 2003, when bribery charges involving his business interests were later thrown out.

    Since then cases against him had been frozen due to a law which allowed Berlusconi to claim that he was too busy with official duties to adequately prepare for trial.

    The premier has denied doing anything illegal in any of the cases and says he has been unfairly targeted by politically motivated magistrates who want to bring him down.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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