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Berlusconi back in the dock on fraud charges

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi attacked Italian prosecutors as he returned to court in Milan to defend himself against charges of fraud involving his business empire Mediaset.



Milan: Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Monday attacked Italian prosecutors as he returned to court in
Milan to defend himself against charges of fraud involving his
business empire Mediaset.

"The prosecutors are working against the country,"
Berlusconi told reporters before entering court, as a handful
of supporters brandished placards reading "Silvio Resist!" and
held blue balloons from his People of Freedom party.

He said there should be an overhaul of Italy`s justice
system to prevent it becoming "a weapon of political struggle"
-- after his government earlier this year proposed reforms
seen as curbing the power of investigating magistrates.
The prime minister also condemned his trial on charges
of sex with an underage prostitute and abuse of power which
began last week.

The accusations were "laughable, unfounded and crazy,"
he said.

Berlusconi, 74, is accused of paying for sex on
several occasions last year with a then 17-year-old Karima El
Mahroug and then using his status to get her released from
police custody in a later incident to cover up his alleged
crime.
The charges are punishable by up to 12 years in
prison.

"No civilised country would use telephone tapping as
it can be manipulated," he said, referring to the painstaking
investigation against him on the sex charge conducted by
prosecutors in Milan which runs to 20,000 pages.

The billionaire tycoon turned politician has a long
history of legal entanglements dating back to when he first
entered politics in the early 1990s but has always either been
exonerated or seen his trials expire.

Last month Berlusconi attended a court hearing for the
first time in eight years for a separate fraud investigation
linked to his company Mediatrade. Judges have not yet decided
whether that case should go to trial.

He did not attend the start of the trial involving the
Moroccan El Mahroug, better known by her stage name "Ruby the
Heart Stealer", on Wednesday.

Photographers and television crews were banned from
entering the Milan courtroom for the start of the trial and
for Wednesday`s hearing.

The court was due to hear witnesses called by
Berlusconi`s 10 co-defendants.

In the Mediaset trial, Berlusconi and his
co-defendants are accused of artificially inflating the price
of distribution rights bought by his companies and of creating
foreign slush funds to avoid paying taxes in Italy.

Bureau Report

From Zee News

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