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ROME – Italy’s top appeals court on Monday upheld a ruling that cleared former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of all charges in a tax fraud and embezzlement in connection with the Mediaset television and cinema empire he controls.
In October, a Milan court threw the charges out, ruling there was not enough evidence to link him to the alleged crimes. But magistrates appealed, arguing that Berlusconi must have been aware of Mediaset’s actions, which included charges the company fraudulently acquired film rights it already owned and otherwise juggled its books and moved assets between subsidiaries to escape as much as $45 million in embezzled funds and $11 million in tax payments over a four-year period ending in 2003. On Monday, the Milan court’s ruling was upheld.
Berlusconi issued a statement denying all charges and accusing prosecutors of singling him out for political reasons.
Significantly, though, Berlusconi’s son and Mediaset vice-chairman, Pier Silvio Berlusconi, and Fedele Confalonieri, the company’s chairman, remain under investigation in the same case. That case will get underway later this year.
The elder Berlusconi’s acquittal removes one of the largest legal worries from the 75-year-old billionaire media tycoon’s plans. But it does not mean he is out of the woods: Berlusconi still faces corruption and fraud charges in two more cases linked to Mediaset, and allegations of abuse of power and paying an underage girl for sex in a third trial.
Berlusconi stepped down as prime minister last November amid the legal scandals and worries that Italy might fall victim of the European debt crisis.
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