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Last Updated: Friday, 13 June, 2003, 13:36 GMT 14:36 UK
Italian PM 'in new fraud inquiry'
Silvio Berlusconi
Berlusconi may avoid prosecution if an immunity bill is made into law
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been placed under investigation for suspected tax fraud and false book-keeping, Italian newspapers say.

The charges are said to be linked to a business deal involving his broadcasting company, Mediaset, in the 1990s.

Mr Berlusconi is already standing trial on charges of allegedly bribing judges to sway in his favour a ruling on the sale of former state-controlled food company SME in the 1980s.

The right-wing leader denies any wrongdoing saying he is a victim of left-leaning prosecutors.

The new investigation comes as Italy prepares to assume the European Union's rotating presidency from July.

But a bill currently being rushed through parliament is expected to give Mr Berlusconi and four other senior figures immunity from prosecution while in office.

However, the bill will not automatically prevent magistrates from investigating alleged wrongdoing.

'Innocent'

Two daily newspapers, Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica, said that Mr Berlusconi's name had been added to a list of people already under investigation.

Prosecutors in Milan allege that Mediaset, which is owned by Mr Berlusconi's family, purchased TV rights for US movies in 1994 and 1996 through two offshore companies, the papers said.

These two companies allegedly inflated purchase costs declared to the tax authorities.

The alleged fraud allowed Mediaset, Italy's largest private broadcaster, to save the equivalent of about 85m euros.

Mr Berlusconi's lawyer, Niccolo Ghedini, said he had not been informed of the new probe, adding that the prime minister had not been involved with the company during the period in question.

"Berlusconi has had no roles in Mediaset since 1993, and the last balance sheet he signed was in 1992," Mr Ghedini told the Associated Press news agency.

"He's totally innocent."

It seems his name was leaked to the press because the prosecutors asked Italy's justice ministry to request information from the US authorities for their investigation.




SEE ALSO:
Italian senate backs PM immunity
04 Jun 03  |  Europe
Berlusconi ally faces sentencing
30 May 03  |  Europe
Berlusconi to be tried alone
16 May 03  |  Europe
Berlusconi set to ride out storm
30 Apr 03  |  Europe
Italian PM attacks judiciary
30 Jan 03  |  Europe


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