11 Apr 2011

Berlusconi appears in court over tax fraud charges

Silvio Berlusconi has arrived in court to face charges of tax fraud. In a seperate case the Italian Prime Minister also faces allegations that he had relations with an underage prostitute.

A confident Silvio Berlusconi was cheered by a group of supporters outside the courthouse – as he accused the magistrates of hurling “an incredible amount of mud”.

This case is just one of four trials involving the Italian Prime Minister, and it is unrelated to the “Rubygate” allegations about his relations with an underage prostitute, which he has dismissed as “groundless”.

Today’s trial centres around tax fraud charges while Berlusconi was in office.

Read more: Will Berlusconi sex scandals destroy his career?

The accusations claim that his Mediaset empire bought the television and film rights at artificially high prices, via offshore companies – with the difference skimmed off and placed in secret slush funds.

Prosecutors claimed the alleged practice also indirectly cut the company’s profits thereby reducing its tax bill.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has arrived in court to face the latest in a series of trials over the coming weeks on charges ranging from tax fraud to paying for sex with a minor (Getty)

Mr Berlusconi was first ordered to stand trial on the charges five years ago – but he passed a law giving top Government officials immunity while they were in office.

A year ago the trial was suspended, but after the legal protection was overturned by Italy’s constitutional court in January, it’s all back on.

Mediaset executives and Mr Berlusconi have denied the charges – calling them “pure inventions abstracted from reality” – and when the hearing opened last month, the Premier described himself as “the most accused person in history and in the universe”.

Mr Berlusconi’s spokesman has said he’s been called to appear at more than 2,500 hearings, involving almost a hundred cases, since he first came to power in 1994.

The media tycoon also says he has spent more than 200 million euros on defence lawyers – claiming he has been victimised by politically biased “leftist” magistrates who are trying to bring him down.

Ever defiant, though, he has rejected a series of calls for him to resign, despite damaging splits in his administration. And what is the chance of a conviction this time? Berlusconi’s response – “Not on your life, don’t make me laugh”.