Berlusconi's Supreme Court Tax Fraud Trial Appeal Set for July 30

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Silvio Berlusconi

The billionaire tycoon is charged with siphoning away nearly $400 million in a series of content acquisition deals connected to Mediaset.

ROME – Silvio Berlusconi’s appeal on charges of tax evasion, corruption and false accounting in connection to his Mediaset television and cinema empire will be heard July 30, Italy’s highest court said Tuesday.

Berlusconi was convicted to four years behind bars with a five-year ban on politics in October 2012 on allegations of creating a slush fund from bogus revenue from film acquisitions from U.S. studios that helped dramatically reduce Mediaset’s tax bill, illegally saving the company as much as €300 million ($393 million). The alleged activities took place between 1994 and 1998, a period when Berlusconi -- a three-time Italian prime minister -- mostly was out of politics.

Berlusconi’s lawyers immediately appealed the ruling, which will now be heard July 30 by the Court of Cassation in Rome -- Italy’s Supreme Court. The court is considered the court of last resort in Italy, and its rulings can only be overturned by a European court, though legal experts say that in this case, it is extremely unlikely that a European court would agree to hear the case.

The July 30 court date is unusually fast for Italy’s justice system, and Franco Coppi, one of Berlusconi’s attorneys, complained that the quick turnaround provided too little time for Berlusconi to mount a defense.

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“This is a limit on the rights of the defense,” Coppi told Italian media.

Even if the case is upheld, it is likely the 76-year-old Berlusconi will escape jail time because of his age. But the five-year ban on politics likely would stick, and it could even serve to destabilize the current government of Prime Minister Enrico Letta, which was formed in April with support from Berlusconi’s coalition.

The case is only part of a series of woes for Berlusconi, who last month was convicted to seven years in jail and a lifetime ban from politics on charges of paying an underage erotic dancer, Karima el-Mahroug, for sex and for abuse of power in helping her get off on a minor theft charge. In December, Berlusconi was convicted to a year behind bars in a wiretap case. Both of those verdicts are under appeal.

Additionally, it was announced recently that Berlusconi has been named in a probe looking into charges that a senator supporting then-Prime Minister Romano Prodi was bribed to switch sides, helping to cause the Prodi government to collapse and opening the door for Berlusconi to become prime minister for the third time.

Twitter: @EricJLyman