New Berlusconi charge filed in TV rights case

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MILAN, Italy -- A prosecutor filed a new charge Monday against former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in connection with his Mediaset empire's purchase of rights for TV movies.

The new charge of false accounting effectively prevents Berlusconi from being excluded from the trial, with the statute of limitations on remaining charges against the former premier set to expire on Oct. 20.

The case involves statements made in financial reports for 2000 that were made public the following year. Prosecutors say Mediaset purchased TV rights for U.S. movies before 1999 through two "offshore" companies and falsely declared the costs to bring down the tax bill.

Offshore companies generally are those registered in countries with lenient regulatory and tax policies.

Mediaset chairman Fedele Confalieri, Hollywood producer Frank Agrama and two others also were named in the charge filed Monday by prosecutor Fabio De Pasquale, the Italian news agencies Apcom and Ansa reported.

"This is unfounded," Berlusconi lawyer Nicolas Ghedini said. "It refers to a period during which (Berlusconi) wasn't involved in the company. He was in politics."

The court continued the trial until Nov. 19.

Berlusconi has a long history of legal troubles linked to his Milan-based business interests. To date, he has either been acquitted or seen cases against him dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired. He has always maintained his innocence.

Berlusconi's three Mediaset networks are the main private TV rivals to the RAI network's three public channels.

Berlusconi served as Italy's leader from 2001 to 2006.
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