Italian prosecutors on Friday launched a tax inquiry against Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] for tax declarations he made in 2003 and 2004 relating to the commercial broadcast company Mediaset [corporate website, in Italian], which Berlusconi founded. Berlusconi is accused of artificially inflating the price of film rights sold to companies that belonged to him, and then selling them back to Mediaset for less money, allowing the company to reduce its revenues and pay less in taxes [AFP report]. Mediaset has denied the allegations.
This is the fourth time Berlusconi has faced allegations of fraud in relation to his Mediaset company. In January, Berlusconi, who was already facing two separate trials on charges of corruption and bribery, was accused of embezzlement and tax fraud [JURIST report]. In March, the Italian Senate [official website, in Italian] gave final approval to a bill [materials, in Italian] that would allow cabinet ministers, including Berlusconi, to postpone criminal proceedings against them on the grounds that they would interfere with official duties. The legislation, passed by a vote of 169-126 [JURIST report] with three members abstaining, allows officials to suspend trials against them for up to 18 months by claiming a "legitimate impediment" to appearing in court.