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Dublin: 14 °C Thursday 31 July, 2014

Berlusconi dismisses tax fraud trial as a “waste of time”

Italian premier claims prosecutors are working “against the country” in pursuing a conviction for tax fraud.

Silvio Berlusconi speaking to his supporters outside a court in Milan today.
Silvio Berlusconi speaking to his supporters outside a court in Milan today.
Image: AP Photo/Luca Bruno

ITALIAN PREMIER SILVIO Berlusconi defended himself vigorously against prosecutors’ charges in a rare appearance in open court today, but the president was addressing reporters, not the judges.

He was not being called as a witness in his first appearance at his nearly six-year-old tax fraud trial, nor did he request to address the court.

Instead, Berlusconi was making good on a pledge to show up in court as often as his duties allow to contest charges of corruption, tax fraud and paying an underage prostitute in four active cases. During his 2 1/2 hours in court, the premier sat silently in the front row next to his lawyer.

Before he left, he told journalists the appearance had been a waste of his time.

“I’ve spent a surreal morning, a paradoxical waste of time and a waste of resources,” Berlusconi told reporters inside before leaving. “There is no proof, no documents, no testimony, no money trail that supports the prosecutor’s thesis.”

He said magistrates, who he has long contended are politically driven and want to oust him from power, “do not work for the country but against the country.”

Berlusconi looked relaxed as he smiled and shook hands with lawyers as he entered the courtroom. He showed his combative side in remarks to reporters before the hearing convened.

“These charges are laughable, unfounded and demented,” he said. He called the charges “the invention of the public prosecutor.”

Prosecutors say Berlusconi’s Mediaset media empire purchased TV rights for US movies through two offshore companies and falsely declared the costs to reduce its tax bill. Along with Berlusconi, 10 others are charged in the case, including Mediaset Chairman Fedele Confalonieri and Hollywood producer Frank Agrama.

Ruby

Berlusconi, who is charged in another case with paying for sex with an underage prostitute, told reporters that he had given money to the Moroccan teenager at the centre of the case to keep her from pursuing a life as a prostitute. The teen, Karima el-Mahroug, who was 17 at the time of the alleged encounters with 74-year-old Berlusconi, is better known by her nickname Ruby.

“I gave her money to help take away need, for reasons that are exactly the opposite, so she would not be forced to be a prostitute,” Berlusconi told reporters. He called the charges “totally without foundation.”

Today’s fraud hearing continued in the afternoon without Berlusconi, and was adjourned until June 13. The premier has a trial or preliminary hearing scheduled nearly every Monday through July — plus a hearing in the underage prostitution trial on May 31, a Tuesday.

- AP

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