Source Pravda.Ru

Berlusconi faces possible TV fraud charges

A Milan court will start hearings on this week to decide whether to indict Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and 13 others in a probe over alleged fraud at broadcaster Mediaset.

The hearings mark the latest in more than a decade of legal battles for Berlusconi and comes just a month after he was acquitted in a separate graft case.

If charged, the media tycoon-turned-politician could find himself on trial during what is likely to be a close-fought general election next April.

None of the accused is expected to be present at Friday's hearing, which follows a four-year investigation by Milan prosecutors into claims of embezzlement, false accounting, tax fraud and money laundering in a disputed television rights deal.

Berlusconi, corporate lawyer David Mills, who is the husband of British Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, and all others involved in the case have denied wrongdoing.

Prosecutors believe a U.S. company sold television and cinema rights to two offshore units owned by a Berlusconi family holding company, Fininvest.

The offshore firms then inflated the prices and rights and sold them on to Mediaset, which is controlled by Fininvest, to avoid Italian taxes and create a slush fund for Berlusconi and his family, prosecutors say.

The investigation, which also includes Mediaset Chairman Fedele Confalonieri, covered deals worth 470 million euros carried out between 1994 and 1999.

Corriere della Sera reported on Thursday that prosecutors had this week frozen some 100 million euros in Swiss accounts of one of the accused, producer Farouk Agama, in the largest international seizure to date by Italian authorities.

Berlusconi, who created Italy's largest media empire, has been tried on at least seven occasions for graft. He has never received a definitive guilty verdict, winning acquittals in some cases thanks to the statute of limitations rule.

Berlusconi accuses prosecutors of leading a politically motivated witchhunt against him and his family, CNN reports.

V.Y.