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Saturday, 27 November, 1999, 11:15 GMT
Berlusconi faces new corruption trial
Mr Berlusconi and Previti Mr Berlusconi and Mr Previti deny the charges

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been ordered to stand trial on charges of corruption and false accounting, in his second indictment this week.

Prosecutors say Mr Berlusconi, now opposition leader, tried to bribe judges to swing a verdict over the sale of the former state-owned supermarket chain SME in his favour.


This is madness
Silvio Berlusconi
The media magnate and multimillionaire was also charged with doctoring company books to hide the alleged bribes.

Milan Judge Alessandro Rossato ordered Mr Berlusconi's top aide and former defence minister, Cesare Previti, to stand trial on the same counts.

Mr Berlusconi, who heads the right-wing Forza Italia party, said he would take legal action against the judge.

"This is madness," he added. "They have gone beyond the law ... they have fabricated proof and used false witnesses."

The indictment comes just days after another Milan judge ordered him to stand trial on separate charges of false accounting linked to his media empire Fininvest.

Political plot

Mr Berlusconi has already been convicted and sentenced in several other cases involving corruption. He has appealed against the verdicts and under Italian law is allowed to remain free pending the final judgements.

The opposition leader, who was prime minister in 1994, says he is the victim of a plot by the left to eliminate him from the political scene.

The sale of SME was embroiled in controversy after state holding company IRI agreed in 1985 to sell the chain to businessman Carlo De Benedetti, but the government later blocked the deal.

A subsequent court appeal went in favour of a consortium which included Mr Berlusconi, pasta maker Barilla and chocolate and confectioner Ferrero.

Mr Berlusconi and Mr Previti will be joined by six co-defendants facing related charges when the trial begins in March.

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See also:
13 Jul 98 |  Europe
Third prison sentence for Berlusconi
08 Jul 98 |  Europe
Convicted Berlusconi lashes out

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