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Last Updated: Friday, 7 July 2006, 16:59 GMT 17:59 UK
Berlusconi to be tried for fraud
Silvio Berlusconi
Silvio Berlusconi denies he has done anything wrong
An Italian judge has ruled that former PM Silvio Berlusconi should stand trial over alleged fraud concerning his family's media company Mediaset.

He is one of 14 people sent for trial by Judge Fabio Paparella in the northern city of Milan.

It follows an investigation into claims of embezzlement, false accounting, tax fraud and money laundering in TV rights deals between 1994 and 1999.

The trial is set to begin in November. Mr Berlusconi denies any wrongdoing.

Mr Berlusconi, who headed a centre-right government for five years until he resigned after his defeat in April's general election, claims he is the victim of politically biased left-wing judges.

He has been before the courts in Italy at least six times on corruption charges.

On the three occasions he was found guilty, his convictions were either cancelled on appeal or the case was declared void because too much time had elapsed between the alleged offence and the trial.

'Off-shore firms'

Preliminary hearings began last October after a four-year investigation by Milan prosecutors into the allegations involving Mediaset.

Lawyer David Mills, the estranged husband of British Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, and Fedele Confalonieri, chairman of Mediaset, have also been ordered to stand trial. They also deny any wrongdoing.

David Mills and Tessa Jowell
British lawyer David Mills is accused of taking bribes

The defendants are accused of involvement in the use of offshore firms to buy US television and cinema rights, reselling them at inflated prices to Mediaset, to avoid paying Italian tax.

"It was a predictable decision, considering the previous hearings in Milan," Mr Berlusconi's lawyer Niccolo Ghedini said after the announcement.

"They haven't allowed crucial witnesses for the defence to be heard."

Judge Paparella is still considering whether to charge Mr Berlusconi and Mr Mills in a related case.

The former Italian prime minister is accused of paying Mr Mills $600,000 (324,000) to give favourable evidence in two court cases. Both men deny the charges of bribery.

Ansa reports that the 14 defendants could face between four and 12 years in prison if found guilty.




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SEE ALSO
Q&A: Berlusconi fraud charges
07 Jul 06 |  Europe
Profile: Silvio Berlusconi
02 May 06 |  Europe
Berlusconi: Out but not down
02 May 06 |  Europe

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