Prosecutors Want to Put Italy's Silvio Berlusconi Behind Bars In Mediaset Tax Fraud Case

42 REP Silvio Berlusconi H
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Freshly ousted Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi did not have much success in attempting to save his country's economy, and now he faces the similarly difficult task of rescuing his media empire.

The 75-year-old media mogul could go to jail for nearly four years in the case alleging he may have pilfered as much as $375 million by inflating the price tag on film rights.

ROME – Prosecutors in Milan have called for nearly four years jail time for former Italian prime minister and billionaire media kingpin Silvio Berlusconi for alleged tax evasion in connection to the Mediaset television and film empire he founded, according to court documents released Wednesday.

Berlusconi, who stepped down as prime minister last November, is charged with artificially inflating the price tag for film rights the company already owned, shuffling them between subsidiaries in order to avoid tax payments and create the illusion of greater revenue. The period in question is between 1994 and 1998, a period in which Berlusconi was prime minister for only seven months.

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Berlusconi’s lawyers have not denied the practice took place, but they say it happened without his knowledge. But Fabio de Pasquale, lead prosecutor in the case, said the slush fund created from the bogus revenue “bear [Berlusconi’s] finger prints” and that the magnate was “clearly at the head of the chain of command” at Mediaset when the practice was alleged to take place.According to de Pasquale, the practice netted Mediaset nearly €300 million ($375 million) in under-the-table revenue.

If found guilty, Berlusconi could face between 18 months and six years of jail time. De Pasquale said  he was seeking 3 years and 8 months behind bars for the 75-year-old Berlusconi.

In addition to the tax evasion charges, Berlusconi faces separate cases alleging, among other things, corruption, false accounting, illegal political funding, and paying an under-age cabaret dancer for sex. He has denied all wrong doing and says he is the victim of a political vendetta from his rivals.

In recent weeks, Berlusconi has hinted he was mulling a limited return to politics, arguing for changes in the leadership of the People of Freedom political party he founded, and studying the oratory style of comedian and opposition activist Beppe Grillo in preparation for a “return to the streets” to call attention to the country’s troubles later in the summer.