Silvio Berlusconi Appears in Court for Fraud Trial

 Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images


ROME -- Embattled Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi appeared in court for the first time in eight years Monday as the trial on charges to tax fraud linked to movie acquisition rights restarted in Milan.

Berlusconi appeared on Canale 5, one of the three national broadcasters he owns, just before the court appearance to call the charges against him “ridiculous,” and then he stepped outside the courtroom to shake hands with supporters gathered there cheering “Silvio! Silvio!.” But inside the courtroom, Berlusconi’s lawyer said the prime minister was “calm and at ease, silent, and planning to return next Monday.”

Berlusconi, a billionaire media tycoon, is on trial in three different cases, and prosecutors scheduled as many of the court dates for Monday as possible in order to make it more likely Berlusconi would appear. But a week ago, Berlusconi skipped the trial to attend an emergency meeting linked to Italy’s role in Libya.

This trial will look into charges of tax fraud linked to film rights acquisitions for Mediatrade, a subsidiary of the Mediaset broadcast and content giant Berlusconi controls.

In the other two cases, judges will look into whether Berlusconi is guilty of paying $600,000 in bribes in order for a British lawyer to lie for him in court, and another on charges of abuse of power and paying an underage cabaret dancer for sex.

Until January, Berlusconi has been protected by a controversial immunity law that protected him from prosecution while in office. But the country’s Constitutional Court stripped out key elements of the law that month, opening the door to this latest set of trials.

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