Scandal-hit Berlusconi faces tax fraud trial

Fri Feb 25, 2011 3:52pm GMT

By Silvia Aloisi

ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, mired in a prostitution scandal, faces a tax fraud trial on Monday, the first of four court cases that will bring his legal woes back into the spotlight over coming months.

The case involves the acquisition of television rights by Italy's biggest private broadcaster Mediaset, the crown jewel in Berlusconi's vast business empire, and is resuming after effectively being put on hold for a year.

The prime minister and other Mediaset executives are accused of inflating the price paid to purchase TV rights via offshore companies controlled by Berlusconi and skimming off part of the sums declared to create illegal slush funds.

Two other trials will resume in early March while a separate case, in which Berlusconi is accused of paying for sex with an underaged nightclub dancer and abusing the powers of his office to try to cover up the affair, begins on April 6.

Berlusconi, who is not expected to appear in the court on Monday, denies doing anything illegal in any of the cases and says politically motivated leftist magistrates are bent on destroying him.

The trials come as the 74 year-old premier seeks to bolster a parliamentary majority which was slashed to a handful of votes after a split with longtime ally Gianfranco Fini and his supporters last year.

The break-up with Fini and the premier's mounting judicial problems had led many commentators to predict a government collapse and early elections this spring.

But Berlusconi has managed to lure back several lawmakers from Fini's breakaway movement and appears to have regained the upper hand in parliament, even if just by a few votes.   Continued...

<p>Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi waves as he arrives to deliver a speech during a two-day event in the city of Rome February 23, 2011. REUTERS/Remo Casilli</p>
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