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Berlusconi, Associates Face Corporate Fraud Charges

July 08, 2006|From the Associated Press

MILAN, Italy — Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was charged Friday with false accounting, embezzlement and tax fraud in connection with his media empire's purchases of TV broadcast rights for U.S. movies, his lawyer said.

British corporate lawyer David Mills, and the chairman of Berlusconi's Mediaset conglomerate, Fedele Confalonieri, also were indicted in the preliminary hearing, Berlusconi's lawyer Niccolo Ghedini said.

Nine other people have been charged in the case, Italian news agencies reported. All the defendants, who were ordered to stand trial starting Nov. 21, have denied any wrongdoing.

Prosecutors allege that Mediaset purchased TV rights for U.S. movies before 1999 through two offshore companies and made false declarations of the costs to lower the tax bill.

Berlusconi, Italy's richest man and longest-serving postwar prime minister, lost in the parliamentary elections in April. He has a long history of legal troubles linked to his Milan-based business interests. So far, every case has ended either with his acquittal or a dismissal of charges because the statute of limitations had expired. He has said he is innocent.

Ghedini complained that the judge hadn't allowed the defense to present witnesses who could have demonstrated that Berlusconi was not involved in the activities in question.

"As always in Milan, there has been an indictment that there should not have been," Ghedini said. "We are convinced that Berlusconi will be absolved, and we are calm."

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