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Former B-Movie Producer's Assistant at Center of Silvio Berlusconi's Defense

Silvio Berlusconi - Possible Return to Politics and Legal Charges
Silvio Berlusconi

Lawyers for the former Italian prime minister and billionaire media mogul say his innocence can be proven by an ex-staffer for "Dawn of the Mummy" producer Frank Agrama.

ROME – Just when it seemed like the tribulations of Italian tycoon Silvio Berlusconi couldn't get any stranger, a former lieutenant for an Egyptian-born, Los Angeles-based B-movie producer is suddenly the central figure in Berlusconi's 11th-hour efforts to avoid getting kicked out of Italy's parliament.

Italy's Senate is set to vote on Wednesday whether to strip Berlusconi of his seat in the legislature in the wake of the August Supreme Court ruling that found Berlusconi, 77, guilty of tax fraud and false accounting in the sale of film rights. The lower house already voted to kick Berlusconi out.

But Berlusconi's lawyers say new evidence proves the three-time prime minister is not guilty of the case's central charges. They are calling for the vote to be canceled, or at least delayed, until the new evidence can be evaluated.

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The new evidence involves Dominique Appleby, a former assistant to Frank Agrama, a producer and director best known for low-budget B-movies, including Dawn of the Mummy, Queen Kong and several films in the Robotech series. Agrama was one of several figures convicted alongside Berlusconi in August. Appleby worked for him for seven years, ending in 1996.

Appleby emerged this week to state Berlusconi was not guilty of fraud charges. The Italian press reported that Appleby said Agrama boasted to her about keeping Berlusconi in the dark about the details of the film rights case at the center of Berlusconi's conviction.

It is unclear whether the claims from Appleby, whom press reports say has a history of financial troubles and tax liens, will be enough to delay Wednesday's vote. As of late Tuesday, there was no indication that would be the case.

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But Berlusconi's lawyers, who claim to have more witnesses to corroborate Appleby's statements, said they would petition magistrates to reopen the case. If that happens, it would be unusual but not unprecedented: While the Supreme Court ruling is considered final, laws allow for a case to be reopened if new evidence comes to light.

Before the emergence of Appleby, Berlusconi called on Italian President Giorgio Napolitano to pardon him, alleging human rights abuses (Napolitano refused), and he claimed the conviction against him amounted to a coup d'état by the judiciary and said that sanctions against him would not only embarrass him but humiliate Italy.

In addition to the tax fraud and false accounting conviction, Berlusconi is appealing convictions for illegal wire taps, abuse of power and paying an underage girl -- former exotic danger Karima el-Mahroug, best known as "Ruby the Heartstealer" -- for sex, and is on trial in Naples for allegedly bribing a lawmaker to tilt a critical confidence vote.

Twitter: @EricJLyman