Italy's Berlusconi Had a Hand in Tax Fraud as Prime Minister, Judges Say

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ROME -- Italian judges said that billionaire media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi played a role in the tax fraud case involving acquisition rights with the Mediaset empire he started, brushing aside his claims that he was too busy as prime minister to play a role in the activities of the company.

Meanwhile, the prosecutor who requested a six-year jail term and lifetime ban from politics for Berlusconi in a case alleging abuse of power and paying a minor for sex revealed that she has been a victim of threats, including an anonymous letter that arrived at her office this week that included two bullets. 

Mediaset, the company Berlusconi founded, runs three national television networks in Italy and one in Spain, plus the Medusa film production and distribution company, and several print and online media. But he is best known for three flamboyant and controversial terms as prime minister.

In addition to everything else, Berlusconi has been hounded by legal problems, facing trials in about two-dozen civil and criminal cases in a 20-year political career. He was never convicted until last year, when a Milan court sentenced him to four years behind bars for tax fraud tied to the way Mediaset accounted for content it acquired.

The verdict is under appeal, but on Thursday, the judges released the reasoning behind their decision from last year, saying there was no evidence to support the claim from Berlusconi's lawyers that he was too busy as prime minister to play a role in the activities that led to illicit behavior.

The case of the bullets in the envelope addressed to prosecutor Ilda Boccassini is one of an array of threats she said she has received since she asked for a severe sentence for Berlusconi. She alleged the 76-year-old tycoon paid then-17-year-old Karima el-Mahroug for sex and abused his power as prime minister to try to get her off on a minor theft charge. Both Berlusconi and el-Mahroug deny allegations. A verdict is expected June 24.

Twitter: @EricJLyman

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