Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi was back in court on tax fraud charges Monday involving his Mediaset empire. The Constitutional Court partially reversed a measure granting the premier immunity from prosecution in January, allowing the trial to resume.
AFP - A tax fraud trial involving Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi resumed Monday in his absence in the first of a series of showdowns between the embattled leader and Italy's justice system.
Berlusconi has been asked to answer accusations that his Mediaset business empire engaged in a fraud to make its revenues appear smaller than they really were.
The prosecution alleges the accounting trick allowed the group to build up a slush fund overseas while reducing its tax liabilities in Italy.
The case being heard in Milan was suspended in April last year following the adoption of a law the previous month granting 74-year-old Berlusconi impunity from prosecution for 18 months.
In mid-January the Constitutional Court partially struck down that measure, opening the way for the resumption of the court case.
Monday's hearing was likely to be brief and focus on establishing a timetable for future hearings in the case, given that the Italian leader is implicated in three other court cases and that he can also legitimately avoid appearing in court by saying his official duties prevent him from attending hearings.
While Berlusconi was not present in court Monday, his lawyer Piero Longo said he could be present at the next hearing scheduled for April 11.
"It is necessary to set out a timetable of hearings while taking into account the fact that there are hearings in the other cases," Longo said.
Berlusconi's political career spanning almost two decades has been plagued by legal troubles but the leader himself has not appeared in court for years.
The premier is also due to go on trial on April 6 over accusations he paid for sex with a Moroccan-born pole dancer known as "Ruby the Heart Stealer" when she was 17 and then abused his power to get theft charges against her dropped.
Berlusconi has accused the Italian judicial system of being politically biased against him.
But Longo said on Monday that he had "absolute confidence" in the legal process.
"We have been acting for Mr Berlusconi for 13 years now and he has never been convicted of anything, so I am not worried," the lawyer added.
Longo said that while Berlusconi was ready to appear in court to answer the sex accusations, it could be a problem for his legal team, indicating that it might seek a new adjournment.
"While it is the most newsworthy, from a legal point of view it is the least of our concerns," he said.
"April 6 is a Wednesday and it is not really a problem for Mr Berlusconi but it is a problem for his lawyers, so we will try to find another date, even if it is very close," he added.
Date created : 2011-02-28