Berlusconi's trial battles resume without him

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 04, 2011 11:15 AM

By Antonella Ciancio

MILAN (Reuters) - A tax fraud case against Italian Prime Minister Silvio resumed on Monday, but he did not attend court and won't be in the dock on Wednesday when he goes on trial for paying for sex with an underage teenager.

Monday's case centers on accusations Berlusconi's companies deliberately overpaid for TV and film rights, allowing the difference to be skimmed off by offshore companies run by front men and put into illegal slush funds.

Berlusconi, Italy's third-richest man, appeared at the first hearing last week but missed Monday's court date because he was in Tunisia for talks on the migrant crisis in southern Italy.

He has denied any wrongdoing in all cases against him and says he has been targeted by politically motivated leftwing magistrates.

The media countdown has already begun for Wednesday's first hearing of what promises to be one of the most sensational in Italian post-war history, but his top aide has already said the 74-yer-old prime minister won't be there.

In Italy, defendants are not obliged to attend trials.

In the sex case he is accused of paying for sex with Karima El Mahroug, who goes by the name of Ruby the Heartstealer, when she was younger than 18, the age at which it is legal for paid sex.

He dismisses the lurid media reports based on prosecutors wiretap evidence of "bunga bunga" sex parties at his palatial private residence outside Milan.

Berlusconi is also accused of making calls to get her released from a Milan police station where she was being held over unrelated accusations of theft.

Supporters and opponents have been demonstrating outside the court for days, waving banners and flags before TV crews.

"Many people with legal problems complain about the flaws of our judicial system. Berlusconi has more important things to do than come here," said Giovanni Esposito, a supporter at his gazebo outside the court.

On the opposite street, a woman held a banner reading "Let's defend the Constitution from Berlusconi's insane attacks."

The Ruby case is only one strand in a web of legal problems for Berlusconi, who also faces a series of related trials linked to allegations of fraud, embezzlement and corruption over dealing in television rights by parts of his Mediaset broadcasting empire.

(Additional reporting by Manuela D'Alessandro in Milan and Gavin Jones in Rome, editing by Philip Pullella and Matthew Jones)