Berlusconi could stand trial over TV rights

Friday 09 April 2010 11.03
Silvio Berlusconi - New law gives him temporary immunity
Silvio Berlusconi - New law gives him temporary immunity

Milan prosecutors have asked for Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to stand trial for tax fraud and embezzlement in a TV rights deals.

The case is likely to be suspended under a new law giving him temporary immunity.

Court sources said today prosecutors had requested that the case against Mr Berlusconi and his son Pier Silvio, as well as the chairman of family broadcasting company Mediaset Fedele Confalonieri and other nine people, now go to trial.

The case faces immediate suspension after President Giorgio Napolitano signed a new law this week giving the premier and his ministers immunity from trial for 18 months because their duties constitute a ‘legitimate impediment’ to attending hearings.

Mr Berlusconi's lawyer Niccolo Ghedini has rejected the charges saying courts are bent on persecuting the conservative premier at any cost.

He said he could not have committed the crimes anyway because he was not directly involved in the company at the time.

But in documents seen by Reuters the prosecutors argue that Mr Berlusconi was still ‘in power de facto’ at Mediaset.

The charge is that Mediaset bought TV rights at inflated prices from two offshore companies controlled by Mr Berlusconi resulting in embezzlement of €435m and tax fraud amounting to €8m.

The 73-year-old media tycoon complains that biased courts have subjected him to 109 trials costing him €200m in legal fees since he first entered politics 15 years ago.

Another ongoing case against Mr Berlusconi for bribing British lawyer David Mills to give false testimony suffered a setback in February when the case against Mr Mills expired under the statute of limitations, weakening a parallel case against Berlusconi.

Mr Berlusconi has never been convicted.

Last year the top court rejected as unconstitutional his immunity from prosecution under a law passed by his government, but he has surmounted that with the ‘legitimate impediment’ law giving him temporary protection.