Mediaset shares slip on Berlusconi ruling

Italian Prime Minister loses legal immunity, remains defiant

ROME -- An Italian court overturned a law that granted Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi legal immunity while in office, opening the door to prosecution of the 73 year-old media kingpin and possibly depriving his media empire of it largest protector.

Mediaset shares quickly slid nearly 3% on the news that Berlusconi, the company's controlling shareholder, can now be tried for the series of corruption, influence peddling, cronyism, and bribery charges that had been put on hold thanks to his immunity. Analysts said shareholders were spooked by the idea that Berlusconi could be further distracted from the company's operations if he has to start mounting a defense.

In several statements since the ruling on Wednesday, Berlusconi was defiant, saying that the court decision left him feeling "rejuvenated." He claimed to be the "most persecuted man of all time" having spent some $300 million on his defense and vowed to beat what he said were groundless charges filed against him by his political enemies.

"The cases had no merit when they were filed and they have no merit now," Berlusconi said.

In addition to being the head of Italy's government, Berlusconi is Europe's richest media tycoon, with an empire that includes a leading film production and distribution company, three national television networks, a leading newspaper and news magazine, a publisher, and an advertising company. Many of the open cases against him involve the allegedly illegal use of his political power to strengthen his companies.