Italy Supreme Court Denies Request to Move Berlusconi Trials

8:41 AM PST 05/07/2013 by Eric J. Lyman
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Berlusconi

The media tycoon says he was not able to receive a fair trial in his "hostile" home town of Milan, where he is being tried on two separate sets of charges.

ROME – Lawyers for Silvio Berlusconi on Tuesday restarted the process of defending the billionaire media tycoon and political power broker against charges of abuse of power, paying to have sex with a minor and tax fraud in Berlusconi’s hometown of Milan, after the Supreme Court denied a request to have the trials moved.

The controversial Berlusconi was born and grew up in Milan and his television, cinema and media empire is based in the city. But Berlusconi’s attorneys said the city had become “hostile” to the 76-year-old magnate, making it difficult for him to receive a fair trial there. They requested the trials be moved to nearby Brescia, but the country's highest court ruled that evidence seeking to show that the location would have a bearing on the outcome of the trials was insufficiently convincing.

Moving the trial would have slowed the proceedings in both trials, and could have increased the possibility that at least some of the charges might one day be thrown out because of statute of limitation rules.

The news comes amid reports that Berlusconi’s support for the fledgling government under the leadership of newly-installed Prime Minister Enrico Letta could depend on whether Letta supports certain key points championed by Berlusconi, most significantly the full repeal of a controversial property tax installed last year to help pay down government debt.

Without the support of Berlusconi’s allies, it is unlikely the Letta government would have enough parliamentary backers to maintain a majority, and speculation is that the 76-year-old Berlusconi might still harbor hopes of becoming prime minister again. Pollsters say that if new elections were held now, Berlusconi and his allies would likely win.

But that could change if the court cases turn ugly. In one, Berlusconi is charged with evading taxes in connection with content acquisitions for Mediaset, the media giant he controls. Berlusconi was sentenced to four years behind bars in the case last year, and the courts are now hearing his appeal.

In the other case, Berlusconi is charged with paying a minor, then-17-year-old erotic dancer Karima el-Mahroug, best known by her stage name "Ruby the Heartstealer," for sex and then lying for law enforcement officials in an attempt to have her released after she was arrested on minor theft charges.

The underage sex and abuse of power is more likely to have an impact on Berlusconi’s political fortunes, but the tax fraud trail is more closely linked to the health of Mediaset. The company’s shares dropped two percent Monday after it was announced that the change-of-venue request had been denied, though they recovered slightly in heavy trading Tuesday. 

Twitter: @EricJLyman

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