Berlusconi back in court on fraud charges

Italian prime minister lashes out at prosecutors as he faces charges relating to his business empire.

    Silvio Berlusconi has faced mounting pressure to resign over the court cases against him [Reuters]

    Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, has returned to court in connection with charges of fraud, the latest in a series of trials over the coming weeks.

    The 74-year-old leader, who is also facing three other cases ranging from tax fraud and corruption to sex with an underage prostitute, criticised Italian prosecutors on his way into court on Monday.

    "The prosecutors are working against the country," he said outside the Milan chambers. "I will not be convicted."

    He said magistrates had hurled "an incredible amount of mud" at him and the country, and said separate accusations of a sex scandal were "laughable, unfounded and crazy".

    'Surreal morning'

    During his two and a half hours in court, the premier sat silently in the front row next to his lawyer.

    Before he left, he told journalists the appearance had been a waste of his time.

    "I've spent a surreal morning, a paradoxical waste of time and a waste of resources," he said.

    "There is no proof, no documents, no testimony, no money trail that supports the prosecutor's thesis."

    Berlusconi and his co-defendants are facing charges that his Mediaset broacasting empire bought TV and film rights at inflated prices through offshore companies, and of creating foreign slush funds to avoid paying taxes in Italy.

    All those on trial deny the charges.

    The Italian leader has resisted calls to resign amid the court cases and after losing a key political ally last year.

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

    A fourth trial centres on claims that Berlusconi paid for sex with a teenage nightclub dancer nicknamed 'Ruby the Heart-Stealer', when she was under the age of 18 - the legal age to be paid as a prostitute.

    Berlusconi told journalists on Monday that he had in fact given money to the Moroccan girl to keep her from pursuing a life as a prostitute.

    "I gave her money to help take away need, for reasons that are exactly the opposite, so she would not be forced to be a prostitute," Berlusconi said.

    He called the charges, which both parites have denied, "totally without foundation".

    SOURCE: Agencies


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