Berlusconi to appear in court in person, ally says

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2011 11:01 AM

ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minster Silvio Berlusconi will appear in court in person in corruption and underage sex trials coming up over the next few weeks, a senior member of parliament in his PDL party said on Tuesday.

The constitutional court lifted Berlusconi's immunity from trial earlier this year, exposing him to three corruption and fraud cases linked to his Mediaset broadcasting empire and a separate trial for having sex with an underage prostitute.

"The Prime Minister will be present at all the trials, starting with the one on March 21," Maurizio Paniz, a lawyer as well as a PDL deputy, told reporters.

"I am happy about this because it has always been my line and there are a thousand arguments to be made for the defense in the trials," he said.

Italian law does not oblige Berlusconi to appear in court in person to face the charges against him and there had been wide speculation that he would leave the trials to his legal team in order to avoid the embarrassment of a public hearing.

Berlusconi has denied doing anything illegal in any of the cases and says he has been unfairly targeted by politically motivated magistrates who want to bring him down.

Prior to the constitutional court ruling in January, the cases had been frozen due to a law which allowed him to claim that he was too busy with his official duties to prepare his defense adequately and stand trial.

The first of the trials, over allegations of fraud in connection with the acquisition of television broadcasting rights, opened last month in Milan but Berlusconi was not present in court.

The hearing was adjourned until April 11.

The next hearing Berlusconi faces is on March 21, when a Milan court will hear charges that he bribed British lawyer David Mills to provide false testimony in court over his business interests.

The trial that has aroused most media interest, over accusations that Berlusconi paid for sex with a teenaged nightclub dancer when she was a minor, opens on April 6.

(Reporting by Paolo Biondi; writing by James Mackenzie)