di Davide Marchetta
Milan, January 18 - Judges in Silvio Berlusconi's appeals trial for tax fraud on film rights for his Mediaset TV group on Friday rejected the ex-premier's call to suspend the case until after the February 24-25 general election. Berlusconi argued he would be too busy campaigning and there was a danger of rivals exploiting the trial. Judges said the verdict would not come before the election so it would not affect the campaign, where Berlusconi is running second to the centre-left Democratic Party (PD). The media magnate is appealing a one-year jail term and five-year ban from public office handed down on October 26. It was the first verdict of a possible three since defendants are entitled to two appeals, the last to the supreme Court of Cassation. The Mediaset trial is one of three involving Berlusconi. In the most high-profile one, he is accused of having sex with an underage alleged prostitute called Ruby and using his position as premier to allegedly try to hush it up. In the third trial, he is charged with involvement in the publication of an illegally obtained wiretap about a bank takeover bid that embarrassed the leader of the PD's more left-wing predecessor, the Democratic Left party, Piero Fassino, in 2005. On Thursday judges in the wiretap trial upheld Berlusconi's "legitimate impediment" plea and put off hearings till after the election. On January 14 the Ruby trial judges rejected a similar petition, prompting Berlusconi to repeat long-standing claims that allegedly left-leaning prosecutors were conspiring against him. The verdict in the Ruby trial is expected before the election.