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Berlusconi boycotts resumption of fraud trial

posted 28 Feb 2011, 06:35 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 28 Feb 2011, 06:38 ]

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi does not attend the re-start of a court case on tax fraud charges against him. The trial is the first since Italy's top court stripped him of immunity of prosecution.

MILAN, ITALY (FEBRUARY 28, 2011) REUTERS - 

The trial of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on tax fraud charges resumed on Monday (February 28), the first case to re-start after Italy's top court stripped him of immunity from prosecution.

Berlusconi boycotted the resumption of the trial, which marks the first showdown between the scandal-hit leader and Italy's judiciary that will take centre stage in coming months, including a trial on charges of paying for sex with a minor.

The case involves the acquisition of television rights by Italy's biggest private broadcaster Mediaset, the crown jewel in Berlusconi's vast business empire.

The premier and other Mediaset executives are accused of inflating the price paid for purchasing TV rights via offshore companies controlled by Berlusconi and skimming off part of the sums declared to create illegal slush funds.

Berlusconi denies all wrongdoing and says politically motivated leftist magistrates are out to destroy him.

"I think he (Berlusconi) will be present in all the trials where his presence is necessary," Berlusconi's defence lawyer Niccolo Ghedini told journalists at the courtroom.

"There will be witnesses present that will mean for the defence it is better to have those directly interested present in the courtroom. Today there was no necessity of this kind," Ghedini said.

Answering questions on whether Berlusconi would be present for the trial involving accusations of sex with an underage prostitute and abuse of power, Ghedini said:

"It is very probable that on April 11 he will be in court."

Newspaper headlines on Monday ran with the probability that Berlusconi's PDL party members would push through new legislation that would shorten the statute of limitations, meaning that many of the prosecutions against the prime minister would become null and void.

Most Italians believe Berlusconi should show up in the courtroom in order to clear his name and show the law applies to all.

"He needs to go in front of the judges, the law is equal for all. I just don't see the reason why he shouldn't turn up," said Milan resident Aldo Rizzo as he passed the courthouse.

Three trials against Berlusconi, which had been put on hold for a year, are resuming after the constitutional court stripped Berlusconi of automatic immunity from prosecution.

"It's about time the trials restarted and now it is time he shows up," said Roberto Lapira on his way to work.

"I think he should have shown up in order to have the nation's respect and for the respect of those who voted for him," said Berlusconi supporter Silvia Bussoletti.

The 74-year-old prime minister will also face a new, separate trial on April 6 in Milan on charges of paying for sex with an underage girl and abusing the power of his office by pressuring police to release her from custody. It is unlikely the prime minister will show up on that date but will probably be in court on later days.

The trials come at a delicate juncture for the conservative premier. His mounting judicial woes, combined with Italy's sluggish economy are weighing heavily on his popularity.

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