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Berlusconi calls tax fraud hearing 'waste of time'

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [official website, in Italian; JURIST news archive] attended a hearing in Milan on Monday to defend himself against charges of tax fraud. After just two-and-a-half hours, Berlusconi left the trial [AP report] saying the prosecution had no case against him and that the hearing was a waste of time. Berlusconi's media empire, Mediaset [corporate website, in Italian] is accused of purchasing television rights for US movies through offshore companies and falsely declaring the costs on its taxes. Mediaset Chairman Fedele Confalonieri [Mediaset profile] and producer Frank Agrama [IMDB profile] are among the 10 others charged in the case. During Monday's hearing, witnesses provided testimony on the purchase of television rights for Italian television. The trial was set to continue into the afternoon without Berlusconi. Last month, Berlusconi attended a hearing [JURIST report] to defend himself against separate charges of fraud and embezzlement. In that case, Berlusconi is accused of inflating the price paid to buy television rights for his company Mediaset to fund political activities. Prior to that hearing, Berlusconi had not attended a case hearing for more than seven years.

The recent appearances are a rarity for Berlusconi who has been a defendant in close to 50 trials but has consistently stayed away from court. He stated that we would attend as many trials in the four active court cases against him as he can. Last week, Berlusconi failed to attend a trial on charges against him for abusing the power of his office and allegedly offering cash and jewels in exchange for sex with a minor. The minor, Moroccan-born 17-year-old Karima El Mahroug, known as Ruby, also failed to attend the hearing. In addition to the payments, Berlusconi also allegedly called police to secure Ruby's release while she was detained on an unrelated suspicion of theft. The trial was adjourned [JURIST report] after only 10 minutes of opening. In February, an Italian judge ordered Berlusconi to stand trial [JURIST report] on the charges of paying for sex with a minor and abuse of power. Both Ruby and Berlusconi maintain that the two never had sex, and Berlusconi has denied any wrongdoing and has called the charges groundless. In January, the Italian Constitutional Court [official website, in Italian] held hearings and subsequently struck down [JURIST reports] portions of a law [materials, in Italian] backed by Berlusconi that would have granted the premier and other public officials temporary immunity from charges while in office.

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