Italy ex-PM Berlusconi to stand trial on tax fraud charges

[JURIST] An Italian judge ruled Friday that former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] should stand trial in November on alleged embezzlement, false accounting, tax fraud and money laundering charges in connection with a TV rights deals involving family company Mediaset [corporate website]. Preliminary hearings [JURIST report] were held last October in the case following a four-year investigation into the charges. Along with the former prime minister, who resigned after losing a disputed re-election bid [JURIST reports], the judge approved as defendants in the case British barrister David Mills, husband of British Culture Minister Tessa Jowell [official profile] and Berlusconi's long-time counsel, Mediaset Chairman Fedele Confalonieri, and former executives at Berlusconi's Fininvest holding company.

Prosecutors allege that in deals struck between 1994 to 1999, Mediaset falsely reported the broadcast royalties paid for US films, thus avoiding taxes totaling 125 billion old lire. The tax fraud charge is the most serious for the former prime minister, carrying a possible six-year sentence. Prosecutors also allege that Berlusconi used Mediaset to create a slush fund for family use. Berlusconi denies all charges.

Berlusconi, who has called the Italian judiciary "the disease of our democracy" [JURIST report], may face a Spanish investigation into antitrust allegations stemming from offshore accounts [JURIST report], as well as claims by Italian prosecutors that he may have bribed Mills in exchange for false testimony [JURIST report]. In September 2005 he was cleared of false accounting charges [JURIST report] and in June 2005 he was acquitted on bribery charges [JURIST report]. BBC News has more. ANSA has local coverage.



 

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