New allegations emerge against Berlusconi

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FLORENCE, Italy -- Allegations against three-time Prime Minister and billionaire media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi were turned up a notch this week after leaked information indicated he may have used illegal means to control television media while he was the head of Italy's government.

When Berlusconi was Prime Minister he directly or indirectly controlled six of Italy's seven national networks: three from Mediaset, the broadcaster he controls, and three from state broadcaster RAI.

Information leaked this week -- mostly transcripts of phone taps -- indicated that Berlusconi may have used his influence over Mediaset and RAI networks to play up his victories and diminish his defeats, such as losses in local elections.

According to one transcript, an RAI executive with ties to Berlusconi is heard urging a counterpart at Mediaset to run a popular program opposite an RAI news show analyzing the results of the April 2005 local elections, where Berlusconi's allies were soundly defeated.

Another RAI executive said the network could air the election program later than scheduled with no explanation to viewers, in hopes that some might tune out.

If true, the charges would bolster at least two of the five pending court cases against the 71-year-old Berlusconi. Those cases allege corruption and influence peddling. The charges could also result in a new case.

Berlusconi vigorously denied the charges when they were revealed and he vowed to sue the Rome-based daily newspaper La Repubblica, which broke the story and printed parts of the transcripts.

Parliament, meanwhile, said it would launch an investigation into RAI's activities with an eye toward making the broadcaster more independent from the Prime Minister's office.
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