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Video by Christopher MOORE


Latest update : 2009-10-06

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was jointly responsible for corruption by his Fininvest company in a 1990s battle to buy publisher Mondadori, a Milan judge ruled on Monday, ordering Fininvest to pay 750 million euros in damages.

REUTERS - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was jointly responsible for corruption by his Fininvest company in a 1990s battle to buy publisher Mondadori, a judge said in arguments for imposing damages on the firm.

"Silvio Berlusconi is co-responsible in the corruption issue ... as a logical consequence (of) the principle of civil responsibility" as head of the company, said the court document explaining the decision which Reuters obtained on Monday.

There was no immediate comment from the prime minister's office.

A Milan administrative court has now ruled Fininvest should pay 750 million euros ($1.10 billion) in damages to CIR, the holding company of Berlusconi's rival Carlo De Benedetti whose daily newspaper La Repubblica has led recent press coverage of the prime minister's private life.

CIR shares were up 8.7 percent at 1.575 euros.

Fininvest has said it will seeks a suspension of the court order while it appeals against the verdict.

In 2007 Berlusconi was cleared of responsibility in the criminal case over corruption at Fininvest after the charges against him were dropped because of the time that had elapsed from when the alleged crimes.

His former lawyer, Cesare Previti, was found guilty of bribing a judge in 1991 to rule in favour of Fininvest in the battle with CIR.

Berlusconi's aides have spoken of "a concentric attack" on the prime minister, depicting the court ruling against Fininvest as the last straw. Some even threaten to call early elections if such attacks continue.

The 73-year-old premier, now in his third term, is under increasing pressure over sex scandals. Critics also complain of how the freedom of the Italian press has been stifled via his ownership of Mediaset, his influence on state broadcaster RAI and national newspapers and the lawsuits he has filed against newspapers in Italy and abroad.

This week a constitutional court should rule on a law approved last year granting Berlusconi immunity from prosecution. It protected him in February this year when British lawyer David Mills was convicted of taking $600,000 in 1997 to give false testimony to protect Berlusconi and Fininvest.

The stock market saw some speculation Fininvest might sell some of its investments to pay for the damages or seek higher dividends from Mediaset and Mondadori, analysts said.

Shares in Mediaset were up 1.1 percent at 4.65 euros by 1139 GMT and Mondadori was up 3.5 percent at 3.38 euros, both reversing initial heavy losses. The DJ Stoxx European index of media companies was up 1.2 percent.

Date created : 2009-10-05