Berlusconi facing battle on 2nd front

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A new case brought against Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's beleaguered former prime minister and billionaire media kingpin, could land him in jail for five years if prosecutors get their way.

Berlusconi is currently on trial for allegedly paying British lawyer David Mills to lie for him in a previous case. But Monday, paperwork was filed to reopen a 3-year-old case in which Berlusconi was accused of using judicial bribes to block the sale of a state-run food company, SME, to rival businessman and media powerbroker Carlo De Benedetti in the 1980s. The new trial could start as soon as June.

"This case in particular shows the extent to which Berlusconi is guilty of criminal wrongdoing," prosecutor Piero De Petris said in a statement filed with the court.

Berlusconi also is expected to face charges in at least two other cases for which paperwork is being collected. Berlusconi, who has escaped prosecution from at least two-dozen charges over the past 15 years, has vigorously denied wrongdoing in each of the pending cases.

The SME case is different from the other cases because prosecutors are seeking a specific jail term — in this case, five years.

When the SME case was first tried in 2004, Berlusconi claimed he was asked by then-Prime Minister Bettino Craxi to bid for SME as a way to raise share prices. At the time, SME was headed by Romano Prodi — Italy's current prime minister and Berlusconi's political rival — who Berlusconi says worked out a secret deal with De Benedetti, president of Italian media company Gruppo L'Espresso.

Though his lawyer was found guilty in the case, a technical glitch resulted in Berlusconi, then still prime minister, being declared innocent of the bribery charges. The government quickly passed a law making an appeal illegal. But a court last year found that law unconstitutional, opening the door to an appeal and extending the statute of limitations.

Berlusconi is Italy's wealthiest media tycoon. In addition to Mediaset's three national networks, Berlusconi owns the publisher Mondadori — the main rival to De Benedetti's L'Espresso — the influential Medusa film distribution company, the Il Giornale newspaper, and the top AC Milan soccer club.
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