Rome

Berlusconi snap trial turned down, alimony tussle looms

Accused of bribing Senator, challenging settlement for ex-wife

Berlusconi snap trial turned down, alimony tussle looms

(By Denis Greenan). Rome, March 19 - Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's legal woes eased slightly Tuesday when a Naples judge turned down a request to put him on immediate trial for allegedly bribing a Senator to switch sides. But, aside from his involvement in three other trials including one for paying an underage nightclub dancer for sex, the billionaire media magnate faced another headache as he announced plans to appeal a huge alimony settlement for his estranged wife. In Naples, a judge on Tuesday rejected a request from prosecutors for an immediate trial for Berlusconi on charges of corruption over allegations that the ex-premier bribed former Senator Sergio De Gregorio to change political sides. The prosecution will now have to follow ordinary trial procedures, announcing the end of preliminary investigations and requesting a formal indictment. Berlusconi is accused of paying De Gregorio, originally a member of ex-graftbuster Antonio Di Pietro's Italy of Values party, three million euros to defect from the centre left to his centre-right formation during Romano Prodi's 2006-2008 government. The Prodi government fell in 2008 after losing the support of the Senate, leading to new elections that Berlusconi won. Meanwhile in Milan Tuesday, the Italian media reported that Berlusconi has appealed against a sentence that forces him to pay his estranged wife Veronica Lario 36 million euros a year in alimony, Italian media said Tuesday. Lario left Berlusconi after he attended the 18th birthday party of an aspiring starlet and friend in Naples in 2009, accusing him of consorting with minors. Last Christmas a Milan court ended a three-year legal tussle between the separated couple, who had been together for 30 years and have three children together. According to the sentence, the media magnate and centre-right politician, 76, will give 56-year-old Lario three million euros a month or 36 million a year but will keep sole possession of his luxury villa outside Milan and his vast business empire will be unaffected. Berlusconi slammed the "non-consensual" sentence on January 24, saying it was "unexpected" and "detached from reality". He said he would dispense with his lawyers and talk to Lario about it. On January 9 a Milan court rejected Berlusconi's claim of bias on the part of the three-woman panel that decided on the figure. The ex-premier, who is currently on trial for paying for sex with an underage prostitute and has had a string of scandals involving escorts and a stable of aspiring starlets, called the judges "feminists and Communist". The couple's marital ups and downs have been well publicized over the years. A media firestorm lit up in 2007 when Lario demanded a public apology from her "flirtatious" husband in a public letter to the editor of the La Repubblica daily, which published the contents on the front page. "I am asking for a public apology, given that I haven't received a private one," she wrote in the letter. The pair made up after Berlusconi said sorry and presented her with an expensive birthday present, disguised as a dancing sheikh. When Lario filed for divorce after Berlusconi's appearance at Neapolitan teen Noemi Letizia's birthday party, the ex-premier told the gossip magazine Chi that he regretted the end of his "love story". Born Miriam Raffaela Bartolini, former actress Lario was Berlusconi's second wife. Berlusconi was smitten after seeing her perform topless in a Milan play about a philandering husband called The Magnificent Cuckold in 1980. Lario's had a bloody cameo in Italian horror master Dario Argento's 1982 film 'Tenebre' (Shadows). She played a woman who had her hand chopped off and yelled for a few seconds as her wound bled. The snippet was cut when the film aired on a Berlusconi-owned TV channel in 2004. Lario and Berlusconi married in 1990 after the media tycoon left his first wife, with whom he has two children, both executives in his media empire. Berlusconi announced in mid-December that he intends to wed for the third time. He is engaged to Naples-born Francesca Pascale, almost 50 years his junior. She accompanied him on the first part of his recent election campaign where a barnstorming comeback took his alliance within a whisker of taking first place from the centre left. Berlusconi says he has been the victim of allegedly leftist magistrates and his People of Freedom party supported this claim last week by demonstrating on the steps of the Milan court where he is accused of paying for sex with a dancer called Ruby when she was under the legal age for prostitution of 18 and later abusing his power to try to hush it up. The ex-premier was convicted last year of tax fraud and sentenced to four years, a conviction he is appealing. He also recently got one year in jail for involvement in the publication of an illegally obtained wiretap that embarrassed a centre-left leader in 2005.

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