Milan

Judges say Berlusconi involved in 'enormous' fraud

Milan court explains upholding four-year term

Judges say Berlusconi involved in 'enormous' fraud

(By Paul Virgo) Milan, May 23 - Milan judges said Silvio Berlusconi was involved in "enormous" fraud at his media empire even during his time as premier in the explanation of their decision to uphold a four-year conviction, which was released Thursday. Earlier this month Milan's appeals court rejected Berlusconi's request for the conviction for tax fraud in relation to deals for TV rights bought by his Mediaset network to be overturned. The explanation said the 76-year-old three-time premier was involved in the fraudulent system "for many years" and "continued despite the public roles assumed. He conducted it in the highest possible positions". It added that there was oral and written evidence that Berlusconi "directly managed" the first stages of an "enormous tax evasion" scam using offshore companies. Berlusconi is set to appeal against the ruling, which also bars him from holding public office for five years, to the supreme Court of Cassation. In this and several other current and previous trials, Berlusconi has always denied wrongdoing, claiming he is the victim of a minority group of allegedly left-wing prosecutors and judges who he says are persecuting him for political reasons. Giuseppe Marinello, a Senator for Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) party, said Thursday's explanation was part of a "strategy of theorems" to defeat the "indisputed leader of Italy's political moderates for 20 years". Berlusconi maintained that he was not involved in any of the suspicious film-rights trades as he was busy working in politics. But judges at the first trial ruled in October that he indeed "remained at the top of the management" and "there was no other person" capable of managing the fraudulent deals. This was reiterated by the explanation released on Thursday. "It was absolutely obvious that the question of (broadcasting) rights, the group's main cost, was a strategic question and therefore was of interest to the owner, to an owner who remained interested and involved in management decisions, while abandoning the day-to-day operations," read the explanation. In Italy sentences for non-violent crimes do not usually become effective until the two-tier appeals system has been exhausted. Due to a 2006 amnesty law, the media magnate who came second in February's general election and whose party occupies key positions in the current left-right government, will not have to serve three of the four years of his jail sentence if the ruling is upheld on appeal. The ex-premier is also on trial for allegedly paying for sex with an underage prostitute and allegedly abusing his power in a bid to cover up the affair. Prosecutors have requested he be sent to prison for six years in this case. He is also appealing a one-year term for involvement in the publishing an illegal wiretap and facing indictment for allegedly buying a Senator to help topple a centre-left government. The supreme Court of Cassation, meanwhile, said Thursday that Berlusconi made "defamatory accusations" in his failed effort to have the Mediaset fraud appeal and the sex trial moved from Milan on alleged grounds of judicial prejudice. Berlusconi's claims of "deliberate persecution or conspiratorial plots on the part of the entire Milan judicial authority" was a "defamatory accusation" because it attacks the duty of impartiality and independence of judgment, the court said in its explanation of its decision not to relocate the trials. The Cassation Court said "the prosecutors are only doing their job". Berlusconi's and the PdL's accusations directed at the judiciary have intensified friction within the seemingly unnatural left-right alliance supporting Premier Enrico Letta's government.

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